This week, I’m talking with RAND CEO Dr. Jason Matheny about a host of threats to US national security – how technology is playing a role and why people call him an ‘apocaloptimist’.
Dr. Matheny has been fascinated with existential threats to the human race from the get go and penned a 2007 paper on how to reduce the risk of human extinction. If that isn’t worth reading – I don’t’ know what is.
Matheny brought that kind of curiosity and insight to the Intelligence Community in 2009 as the Director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity – that’s the research arm of the Intelligence Community that invests in fascinating research projects. He’s also served on the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence and was the founder of the Center for Emerging Technology at Georgetown University.
He left that role to become the Coordinator for Technology and National Security at the National Security Council – and at the same time – served as Deputy Director for National Security at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Matheny became the CEO of the RAND Corporation this past summer. Needless to say, I learn a lot every time I talk with Dr. Matheny. So let’s get started.
This week we're talking about the mission to give back and we're highlighting three organizations that are doing just that. Suzanne is joined by Brad for three conversations with charities that are making an impact. First up is the Special Operations Care Fund known as SOC-F.
SOC-F really targets their giving efforts to the special operations community in ways that you wouldn’t normally think of. They support things like treatments for traumatic brain injury but they also focus on providing therapy sessions to save marriages that are often strained by the multiple deployments that affect families. They also provide therapeutic and restorative experiences for gold star kids. We spoke with Co-Founder David Kramer and new Executive Director of SOF-F Jeremy Morton.
Next up we spoke with CSM (Ret) Mike Hall, Executive Director of Three Rangers Foundation an organiztion that serves the Ranger community. Three Rangers manages a significant network of former Rangers who mentor new veterans as they are transitioning, and beyond and offers some pretty impressive ways to build professional networks in the civilian world.
Last but not least we spoke with the Executive Director of the CIA Officer's Memorial Foundation John Edwards. John is a retired senior executive with CIA and now leads the organization that was created following the death of Mike Spann in 2001. Spann was the first American killed in Afghanistan, and was a CIA officer and it became clear very soon after that CIA needed a new type of way to support fallen officers. We talked with John about how the foundation works to provide scholarships and support for the children and spouses of fallen CIA officers.
In 1972, former CIA Executive Director William Colby proposed that the spy agency set up an employee museum as a way to share the unique mission and the impact that CIA had around the world.
It took 16 years for it to come to fruition. And some 34 years after that, a new museum expansion and renovation is helping the Agency mark its 75th Anniversary.
Now, the museum hosts artifacts from some of the Agency’s most successful – and some unsuccessful missions.
In this episode of The State Secrets Podcast, Cipher Brief CEO & Publisher Suzanne Kelly sits down with the CIA’s Curator of Secrets – Museum Director Robert Byer, who gave The Cipher Brief team a tour of the new space and the new exhibits. Some of them stretch back to the days of the OSS – the World War II Precursor to CIA. And some, were used in active intelligence operations as recently as this summer. All have been declassified.
Here's a peek inside the world’s most secretive museum at CIA Headquarters, and Suzanne Kelly’s conversation with Museum Director Robert Byer.
In this State Secrets episode, Cipher Brief CEO & Publisher Suzanne Kelly sits down with the Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Vice Admiral Frank Whitworth at NGA Headquarters in Springfield, Virginia to talk about what’s going on in hot spots like North Korea, as the North undertakes a series of missile launches, about NGA’s expected role with the artificial intelligence program known as MAVEN, and about how the agency is partnering with commercial businesses to know the world even better.
Vice Admiral Whitworth took on the role as Director this past June and he brings an impressive intelligence background in the military to the new job. His command tours included serving as commander of Joint Intelligence Center Central, commanding officer of the Navy element of U.S. Central Command and commanding officer at the Kennedy Irregular Warfare Center. He also served as director of Intelligence for The Joint Staff and as director of Intelligence for U.S. Africa Command and as director of Intelligence for Joint Special Operations Command. The list goes on.
In this episode, I’m talking with journalist and author Renee Dudley. Renee is a technology reporter at ProPublica who stumbled onto a band of what she describes as misfits while reporting on the rapid rise of ransomware. What she found was an incredible group of individuals who decided to be a change for good by helping fight cybercrime. She tells the story in a new book she wrote with co-author and fellow journalist Daniel Golden, The Ransomware Hunting Team: A Band of Misfits’ Improbable Crusade to Save the World from Cybercrime.
Here's my conversation with Renee Dudley.
China remains the top concern for long-term US national security and tensions over Taiwan have increased steadily over the past several months. Chinese President Xi Jinping used the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party to cement his grip on power – and to make clear where his party stands on its future ambitions, to include the reunification of the self-governing island of Taiwan.
So just how close are China and the US moving toward war over Taiwan?
That's something that Cipher Brief Expert Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.) has been contemplating for some time. He is the author of 2034: A Novel of the Next World War - that he co-wrote with journalist Elliott Ackerman - played out just how that war might start.
Chinese President Xi Jinping opened the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in October - with a speech that makes clear where his party stands on its future ambitions, to include the reunification of the self-governing island of Taiwan.
But tensions between the US and China over Taiwan’s future are really just one part of the story. Beijing has made clear that it has a thorough and organized strategy to achieve its ambitious goals while the US – in part because of a democratic system that can change leadership every four years – is realizing that it must do something different if it wants to remain a dominant power in the world.
I can’t imagine anyone better on this issue that my guest in this episode: former assistant secretary of defense turned Harvard Professor Graham Allison. Allison is the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government and Harvard and he is also the author of the book, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’ Trap? If you haven’t read it, it’s a master class in understanding just where both countries are coming from and what advantages they hold in this great power competition.
Here's my State Secrets conversation with Harvard Professor Graham Allison.
In this episode, Cipher Brief COO Brad Christian sits down with former CIA Officer Brett Davis and Entrepreneur Jeremy Hitchcock to talk about the future of US national security from an investor’s perspective.
Brett is a former Senior Executive with the CIA, and a former Special Operations Officer with the US Navy. Jeremy is an angel investor who co-founded a company called Dyn in 2001 that grw out of an open source project. He sold the company in 2017 for $600mm.
The two men are now partners in New North Ventures, which – full disclosure – The Cipher Brief works with. New North is a sponsor of this year’s Cipher Brief Threat Conference.
Brad sat down with the two men – from very different backgrounds – to get their perspective on investing in future US national security.
China’s Communist Party is deep into preparations for its 20th party Congress that begins October 16th in Beijing, where expert observers are expecting President Xi Jinping to be confirmed for an unprecedented third five-year term.
Xi is also expected to announce his new leadership team that will execute on the party’s agenda. And it’s safe to say that near or at the top of that Agenda is the issue of Taiwan.
For context: When it comes to US policy, Washington’s official stance is that Taiwan is in fact, part of China and that if reunification occurs, it must be through a peaceful reunification. Beijing, meanwhile, sees Taiwan as a breakaway province that must be reunified, and has not rule out use of force to do so.
Washington is bolstering Taiwanese defenses in the event that Beijing grows impatient and makes the strategic decision to reunify the island by force.
So, diplomatically, the US recognizes one Chinese government yet Washington treats Taiwan like an independent nation when it comes to diplomatic engagement and military support. That’s the reason why China took such offense to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent visit to Taipei.
Today’s guest agrees that the U.S.’ One China Policy presents a complicated engagement strategy. How did we get here? And what is the likelihood that the world’s two most powerful nations could come to blows over Taiwan?
Ambassador Joe DeTrani has focued much of his career on China. He is not only a former Special Envoy for Six Party Talks with North Korea, he is also a former director of East Asia Operations at the CIA.
In this episode, Cipher Brief COO Brad Christian sits down with Ambassador DeTrani to unpack the US’ One China Policy.
On the morning of July 31, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has been in hiding since 9/11, walked onto the balcony inside a compound in downtown Kabul. The Egyptian-born physician had taken over the leadership of the terrorist organization after US Navy SEALS killed Osama bin laden in Abbottabad in 2011. For 11 years he had directed al-Qaeda from the shadows and there had been many false starts for the US intelligence agencies and special operations team who were tracking him. But on this day, as he stood outside, a US directed hellfire missile, reportedly fired from a drone killed him. The missile was incredibly precise, it killed the al Qaeda leader but not his family, who are believed to have been inside the building at the time.
Air to surface missiles like this one are just one of the tools that US counter-terrorism teams have been using as they hunt down terrorist leaders around the globe. While Zawahiri’s killing was seen as the end of a long and costly manhunt – both in human lives and resources – what does his death mean to the future of the al Qaeda?
I spoke recently with retired Lieutenant Generals Scott Howell and Mike Nagata. Lt. Gen Howell served as Commander of Joint Special Operations Command Central before he retired just over a year ago and Lt. Gen Mike Nagata served as Commander of US Special Operations Command before retiring in 2019.
As the first Air Force officer to command JSOC, Lt Gen. Howell led a force of 14,000 personnel engaged in special operations across multiple areas of instability and was responsible for the readiness and mission execution of highly-specialized forces of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.
And Lt. General Nagata’s final position before retiring was Director of Strategy for the National Counterterrorism Center – a job he held from 2016 to 2019. He served as Commander of US Special Operations Command-Central and was responsible for Special Operations across the Central Command region from 2013 to 2015 and was heavily involved in the first two years of combat operations against the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere.
Suzanne talks with former National Intelligence Manager for Iran (NIM-I) at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) Norm Roule on the impact of a potential deal to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement with Iran.
The former Director of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center joins us in The Cipher Brief Studio to talk about why technology is not enough when it comes to maintaining a competitive edge in national security over China. If the US doesn’t organize as well as it innovates, there will be no victory.
In this episode Suzanne talks with former CIA Deputy Director of Intelligence and founder of the Mossbridge Institute, Dr. Julia Mossbridge.
This week Suzanne talks with former CIA officer and author of new book Victor in the Trouble Alex Finley. They talk about her career, her path to becoming an author and how she recenlty became an expert on oligarchs and yachts.
This week, Suzanne talks with Steve Blank, the Silicon Valley Entrepreneur widely recognized as one of the most influential voices in technology today. Blank’s passion for US national security led him to co-launch two classes at Stanford, where he teaches. One is called Hacking for Defense and the other, Hacking for Diplomacy. Hacking for Defense later became a federal program as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. Today, Steve has joined a chorus of voices complaining that Department of Defense ‘culture’ is hindering its ability to truly innovate and it’s putting the US behind it’s adversaries. What does that mean? And how could it impact future US national security and US competitiveness in the world?
In this episode Suzanne catches up with Cipher Brief Expert and author Admiral James Stavridis (Ret) to talk about his new book- To Risk It All: Nine Conflicts and the Crucible of Decision.
Former Chief of Counterterrorist Operations Ric Prado spent the bulk of his CIA career undercover, taking on the hardest challenges the Agency had, from Nicaragua to Afghanistan. Now, the Cuban refugee shares the secrets of why he did it, and why he thinks it’s time to set the record straight.
Former Senior CIA Officer Kristin Wood shares her insights on secrets and the world of Open Source Intelligence. Now CEO of Grist Mill Exchange, Wood shares her insights on how businesses and the government can benefit the most from secrets that are sometimes right there in the open.
Cipher Brief Publisher and CEO Suzanne Kelly talks with retired CIA Officer Beth Sanner, who spent 35 years in national security before recently retiring. Her responsibilities included serving as Deputy Director for National Intelligence, and as former President Trump’s Intelligence Briefer. That means that twice a week, for two years, Sanner met with the former President in the Oval Office, sometimes in other locations around the White House, to brief him on the nation’s most classified intelligence. In order to do that, she had to get inside her customer’s mind, anticipate the questions he would ask and have answers ready. What are some of the secrets Sanner has for briefing people in positions of power?
Find out how CIA is thinking about Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) and Data Analytics in a conversation with Marie Falkowski, Director of Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics at CIA’s Directorate of Digital Innovation
This week with all of the heaviness with what’s happening in Ukraine and a new world order taking shape, we wanted to give you a break from the stress of reality, and focus on fiction. What we’re seeing today is something that no many of us could have written about a few months or even a few years ago. And a failure of imagination comes with a price. So I think you’re going to find my conversation with author Mark Greaney as interesting as I did. Many of you already know Greaney as the author of the Gray Man series, and his latest book Sierra 6 is a well-written escape. If you follow Mark you also know that he wrote several books under the Tom Clancy name. In this episode we talked about what’s happening in Ukraine right now, what inspires him as an author and how continues to find the energy and discipline to write two books per year.
I’m your host Suzanne Kelly, and this is the State Secrets Podcast.
In this episode Suzanne talks with Cipher Brief Expert and former Director of Intelligence Analysis for the New York Police Department Mitch Silber. Mitch weighs in on how the recent hostage situation in Texas connects to New York City, and what he learned about protecting NYC during his time at the NYPD.