At the young age of 33, Brett Velicovich has probably held more positions than someone could in a lifetime: Former US Army Intelligence, humanitarian, business owner, author and drone expert.
Brett recently released his book Drone Warrior: An Elite Soldier’s Inside Account of the Hunt for America’s Most Dangerous Enemies. And the title really does say it all, offering readers an inside view into the world of drone warfare, and the toll it takes on the people who control the UAVs.
In this episode of 15 Minutes, The Cipher Brief’s Bennett Seftel goes even deeper with Brett, examining the importance of the drone program in US military counterterrorism efforts, what drove his dedication, and the recent news of a man Brett spent most of his career hunting down: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Whether it’s the Equifax data breach, border security or Russian state-sponsored election hacking, identifying current and emerging technologies to secure public and private infrastructure is a critical priority for the U.S. government. The Cipher Brief’s Deputy Director of Analysis, Bennett Seftel spends 15 Minutes with U.S. Representative Will Hurd (R-TX) who talks about takeaways from his years working as a CIA operations officer and offers his thoughts on current issues: why a border wall with Mexico and the most expensive and least effective way to do border security, the North Korea crisis and the adversarial U.S.-Russia relationship.
A resurgent Russia, along with broader economic and social trends, is shaking up politics across the U.S. and Europe. Populist parties, like Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), that are supported by Vladimir Putin’s Russia, are challenging the status quo. The AfD came in third in Sunday’s election in Germany, significantly gaining on the two major parties and winning seats in parliament for the first time. For now, the political center in Germany still holds, with Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat, winning a fourth term. This week, The Cipher Brief’s Kaitlin Lavinder spends 15 minutes with Rüdiger Lentz, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute Germany. Here, they talk about the rise of populism in the West and how it’s impacting liberal democracies.
Military and intelligence professionals around the world view cyberspace and the internet differently. In the West, cyberspace is thought of as a facilitating agent, one that can be leveraged for espionage, disruption and sabotage. In more autocratic regimes, cyberspace is a mode of political control and influence of narratives, both domestically and abroad. To get deeper insight into the matter, the Cipher Brief’s cyber and technology analyst Levi Maxey spoke with Alexander Klimburg, Director of Cyber Policy and Resilience at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies and author of a new book called The Darkening Web: The War for Cyberspace. Levi and Alexander discuss his work, the threats facing the West, and what the current conflict in cyberspace looks like.
On the 16th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, Leone Lakhani spends 15 minutes with Michael Leiter, who was Director of the National Counter Terrorism Center from 2007 to 2011. Mike worked closely on the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the Al Qaeda leader behind the 9/11 attacks. Here, he shares rare insight on the operation that killed bin Laden in May 2011.
In Part II of Suzanne Kelly’s interview with Bob Work, former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Defense, Suzanne digs deeper into the challenges Bob faced in ushering new technology into the Defense Department - as well as the relationship between the public and private sector - when it comes to innovation.
Artificial Intelligence, cyber warfare, C4I network grids: just a few of the things that Bob Work was keeping the Department of Defense updated and innovating on during his time as the Deputy Secretary of Defense. This week, The Cipher Brief brings you a special treat for the holiday week, two podcast interviews between Bob and CEO & Publisher Suzanne Kelly.
In Part I, Bob and Suzanne discuss some of the biggest challenges he was facing in his position, most especially, convincing the culture of the Department to accept change.
This week Leone Lakhani spends 15 Minutes with Javier Peña, a former drug enforcement agent, who was instrumental in bringing down the notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. Peña and his partner Steve Murphy – both depicted in the Netflix series Narcos – track the life and eventual demise of Escobar, as consultants on the show. Season 3 of Narcos enters a new chapter in the war on drugs, following the brutal Cali Cartel. While Peña didn’t consult on this season, he did track the Cali traffickers during his career. Here, he tells Leone about the show, his experiences, and what he learned from the hunt for Escobar.
Much of the emphasis of fighting violent extremism in the U.S. is on the Islamist or Jihadist threat. But the attack in Charlottesville earlier in August, was a reminder that other elements, including right-wing extremist groups, are also at play. Have these types of groups been ignored? What are the challenges of counter-terrorism in today’s America? Leone Lakhani speaks to Michael Leiter, former Director of the National Counter Terrorism Center to find out.
On the 16th Anniversary of 9/11, stay tuned for a special Part II of Michael Leiter's podcast, where he tells Leone about his part in the hunt for Bin Laden.
Former National Security Advisor to Joe Biden, Former Deputy Chief of Staff in the State Department, Former Director of Policy Planning, Senior Advisor during the Iran Nuclear Negotiations, Top Foreign Policy Advisor to Hillary Clinton during her campaign, and now, a professor at Yale and a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Jake Sullivan has lead a busy life, but he recently took time to sit down with the Cipher Brief's CEO and Publisher Suzanne Kelly to discuss our relations with Iran, the changes at the State Department, and what we can do to face our biggest security threats.
The U.S. State Department recently revealed that some government employees working in the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba were sent home due to symptoms resembling a concussion, with at least one employee suffering from hearing loss. State Department officials have said this was an “acoustic attack,” using sonic devices outside the range of audible sound that were placed either inside or outside the diplomats’ residences. This week, The Cipher Brief’s Kaitlin Lavinder spends 15 minutes with H. Keith Melton, an intelligence historian, author, and board member of the International Spy Museum, who recently co-authored Spy Sites of Washington, DC with former CIA Director of the Office of Technical Service Robert Wallace. Here, they talk about the history of espionage activities between the U.S. and Cuba, and which country is the biggest espionage threat to the United States.
This week, The Cipher Brief’s CEO and Publisher Suzanne Kelly spends 15 minutes with Rob Joyce, the White House cybersecurity coordinator. Prior to his role in the new administration, Joyce was chief of the NSA’s elite hacking unit named Tailored Access Operations. Joyce now leads the government’s coordination of all things cyber, a big job to take on considering the number of agencies, departments, and threats. Suzanne spoke with Joyce about his role, and what he sees as the biggest cyber threats today.
This week, The Cipher Brief brings you a special best of episode of one of our most fascinating guests, Jason Matheny, Director of IARPA, the research branch for the intelligence community that works on ways to tell the future. The Cipher Brief’s CEO and Publisher, Suzanne Kelly, spoke with Jason about what exactly IARPA does, what keeps him up at night, and if there’s ways to predict political instability and unrest.
A U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, envoy to Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti, and Somalia: James Dobbins has had years of experience representing U.S. interests abroad. Along with his numerous positions, he was also lead negotiator to the Bonn Agreement, which re-created the state of Afghanistan following the U.S. invasion. In this week’s 15 Minutes podcast, The Cipher Brief’s Fritz Lodge speaks with Ambassador Dobbins about his experiences as a diplomat, what role the U.S. has abroad under the Trump administration, and his new book, Foreign Service: Five Decades on the Frontlines of American Policy.
It’s a rough time for liberal democracies – with fake news and election hacking creating a growing erosion of trust in governments. Estonia, a small country in eastern Europe and previously under the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence, was hit by a wave of cyber attacks in 2007, which many believe Russia orchestrated. Since then, Estonia and former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves have been focused on building up cyber defenses. This week, The Cipher Brief’s Kaitlin Lavinder spends 15 minutes with President Ilves, who is now a visiting fellow at Stanford’s Institute for International Studies. Here, they talk about fake news, twitterbots, and the future of artificial intelligence.
The U.S. Navy protects our seas around the clock. But what else does the Navy do? It innovates – a lot. Ray Mabus, who was Secretary of the Navy under both Obama Administrations and held that post longer than anyone since World War I, created a fully green fleet during his tenure. Now, 65 percent of energy on navy bases around the world comes from non-fossil fuels. This week, The Cipher Brief’s Kaitlin Lavinder spends 15 minutes with Secretary Mabus, who was previously the Governor of Mississippi and U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Here, he tells Kaitlin about other innovations in the Navy, like unmanned underwater vehicles that compete with Russia and China on underwater capabilities.
This week, The Cipher Brief celebrates Independence Day by looking back at interviews we did with men who have served this country in the Armed Forces. From Robert 'Buzz' Patterson, air force pilot and military aide to President Clinton, to Senator John McCain, a former naval pilot and POW, to Jack Keane, a retired four-star general, these men worked tirelessly for the greater good.
As the 23rd Secretary of the Air Force under President Obama, one of Deborah Lee James' principal concerns was U.S. advancement in space. She believes its mission-critical for the United States to better protect its satellite communications and missile warning systems. The Cipher Brief's Fritz Lodge joined Secretary James for a discussion on the role of U.S. armed forces in space - and some of the game-changing advancements that may come soon in space-based missile defense.
From 1985 to 1994, CIA officer Aldrich Ames was actually a spy for the Soviets. At the time of his arrest in ’94, he had compromised more CIA assets than any other mole in history. This week, The Cipher Brief’s Leone Lakhani spends 15 minutes with former CIA officer Sandy Grimes, who was instrumental in uncovering Ames. She had worked beside him as a young officer with the CIA’s Soviet bloc division. Here, she shares her personal experiences with Ames and why she believes he was such a valuable Soviet target.
There’s seldom a day that we don’t hear about cyber attacks, hacks, and how governments and the general public should protect against cyber threats or criminals. One company says its mission is to use technology to do just that: keep people safe online. The company’s called Jigsaw. It’s a technology incubator created by Google. But how do they do it? The Cipher Brief’s Leone Lakhani spends 15 minutes with Jigsaw’s Managing Director Scott Carpenter to find out.
This week, The Cipher Brief's Suzanne Kelly spends 15 Minutes with Ali Soufan. Ali is a former FBI special agent, who recently wrote The Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of Bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State. What's unique about the book is that he wrote it like a novel, to bring the readers into the world of Bin Laden and help them better understand it. So how did he come up with the idea?
This week, The Cipher Brief looks back at five groundbreakers in the national security space. Each in his/her own right has blazed a trail for others to follow — in policy, spycraft, and law enforcement. From Pentagon pioneer Michele Flournoy to Steve Murphy, who co-led the demise of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, take 15 Minutes to hear from some of the leaders and change-makers in national security and intelligence. To listen to the full podcasts with each of these trailblazers, search The Cipher Brief podcasts.
How important are the Balkans to U.S. national security? The region remains volatile, with ethnic and socioeconomic tensions rising, and increased Russian meddling in internal affairs. So, this week, The Cipher Brief's Kaitlin Lavinder spends 15 Minutes with Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who recently returned from a trip to the Balkans. He also voted in March for the state of Montenegro to become NATO's newest member. Here, he tells Kaitlin what he thinks Montenegro will bring to the table.
What is the most stable country in the world? Which is the most fragile? What determines those qualities? This week, The Cipher Brief’s Leone Lakhani spends 15 Minutes with JJ Messner, Executive Director of The Fund for Peace, which projects the annual Fragile States Index. Judged on 12 indicators – based on social, economic and political factors – the index ranks 178 countries from the most fragile, to the least. So, which countries ranked the highest in 2017? And why does it matter?
In a world of evolving threats, how can the United States innovate to stay ahead in the national security space? That’s a question The Cipher Brief's CEO Suzanne Kelly puts to Milo Medin, a member of the Defense Innovation Board, an initiative set up by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter in 2016. Milo, who is also Google’s Vice President of Access Services, speaks to Suzanne about potential solutions, on the sidelines of Georgetown University’s “Hacking 4 Defense” innovation panel.