tv Amy Zegart Spies Lies and Algorithms CSPAN May 28, 2022 1:46am-2:48am EDT
hoover book club where we bring hoover fellows and friends together to discuss their latest writings our guest today is amy ziegart. she's the morris arnold and notaging cox senior fellow here at the hoover institution and professor of political science by courtesy at stanford university. she's also a senior fellow at
stanford stream of spoly institute for the national studies chair of stafford's artificial intelligence and international security steering committee and a contributing writer at the atlantic but wait, there's more abc a guards also a book author her latest title being spies lives and algorithms the history and future of american intelligence. amy great to see you and congratulations on the book great to see youtube bill. thanks. it's always nice to your book rather than just be writing a book and that leads to my first question. i just listed countless things you're doing in and around the stanford world. how do you find time to write a book? well because we couldn't get together and we couldn't travel so i am moved all my books to my home office and hold up and that's how i was able to. finish it took a lot of you know structured time away from the office to get it done and just a lot of discipline, i guess and just kind of keeping atticus. it's like i deal in collaborating but i'm writing and you know 800 word bursts here and there but a book is a is a different creature. well, i can't do what you do.
i i'm afraid of writing on deadline to be honest. so if i have a deadline that several years away i can get it done. but if it's you know several hours away, that's another story stick to what you do. what you do is thoughtful you're not living in the moment. so well done. so let's talk about the book spas lies algorithms. let's break it down into categories. amy spies. what are we talking about? we talk spies these days. well the let me take a step back because the purpose of the book really is to inform a general audience about what the secret world of intelligence is spies usually get people's attention and i think there are a lot of myths about what spine is even the basic terminology we call someone a spy when they're not really a spy. the spy is the foreigner that bet. their country for our cause right not the cia officer that actually is running them. i think you know that one of the main points of writing the book is to dispel some myths right, so i'll give you like my top three myths of good community myth number one, is that
intelligence is secrets, right? most of intelligence actually is not secrets, right 80% of a typical report is open source information, right? myth number two intelligence is policy, right? that spies are out there giving policy advice, right mr. president. you should do x y or z. they don't they're not supposed to do that. they usually do and i think the third, you know sort of big myth is covert action is this bag of dirty tricks that we reserve for the you know, the most horrible things that our government does and that's not true either we do everything overtly that we do covertly what makes something covert. is that the us government tries to it's official responsibility for it. so who's our covert action wars are over action to replace regime. so we do everything overtly that we do covertly right so it comes to my name is this documentary? it's up right now and oliver stone in the movie jfk which
justice celebrity anniversary and it gets the two things number one how stone made the movie but secondly, it's oliver stone opening his head and revealing what he thinks about the jfk assassination and vietnam and intelligence. so before you know, you're on a very dark road or what the us government does and doesn't gun and now we're living the days of the cia and cuba and trying to feed, you know fidel castro poison cigars and things like that. and so that's what you're getting out there. just the public is being fed a lot of information. that's maybe not quite accurate. yeah, and what we see bill is you know in in public opinion polling is this dramatically rising belief conspiracy theories of all types. so one of the most stunning polling results i found was that even if you years ago, 25% of americans believe 9/11 was an inside job by the us government a quarter of americans believe that so a lot of what i'm trying to do is dispel these, you know crazy conspiracy notions about what the intelligence community is really doing right, but that also leads in a technology.
we'll get that no second. i mean you take that poll of a quarter of american snake that 9/11 was an inside job. i think the actor charlie sheen was a big proponent of that theory. i'm not sure what paul say about people thinking about vaccines these days, but i'm sure there's a healthy portion of population who thinks of vaccines. is this for one thing that's allowed bill gates to microchip you so, you know, so i don't know if it's technology is driving this per se or maybe it's the medium pop culture amy, but this is what i think you're getting at at your book. it's just it's a lot of a lot of what the government does and doesn't do on intelligence is sort of polluted by what pop culture gives us what academia teaches us. yes, so what it's it's i'm glad you raised that bill because what originally got me interested in writing the book which was many years ago when i really started thinking about it was a poll. i did of my college students at the time at ucla and on a lark. i just asked them a bunch of questions about intelligence and then what their television and movie viewing habits were and what i found was that a statistically significant percentage of them? were affected by their spy
themed entertainment or at least there were correlations those who said they always watch the show 24 for example with jack bauer were far more willing to advocate really aggressive intelligence policies like waterboarding for example, right? and so what i found the more i dug into this was that spy themed entertainment had actually become adult education and i found all sorts of evidence about this and national polls and actually in the policy world. okay, so the book you talk about espionage going back to the days of george washington. so it seems as government has shall i say a rich tradition of being involved in espionage, but very simple question amy, how does espionage differ today versus it did back in the days the founding fathers? oh, that's such a good question in some ways. it's really similar more similar than we might think so. we think about information warfare as an internet invention, but in fact benjamin franklin was really good at information warfare cranked out fake news literally fake news articles from his paris
basement. it's different today. primarily. i would say in three ways. number one is speed. everything's moving faster. now the speed of data the speed of insight the speed of decision. so espionage has to keep pace with what decision makers need to know and when they need to know it, so everything is accelerating today. that's a really hard challenge. i think for intelligence agencies, right? the second is scale. so if we think about i have a chapter in the book about traders and counterintelligence, you know, it used to take years for people to smuggle documents out in their pants and garbage bags and all sorts of crazy ways to to try to betray their country, right but now traders can download documents millions of documents in a matter of minutes or hours or months. so this scale of espionage and particularly counterintelligence challenges is completely different and i see the third key difference with espionage today is that there's been a
democratization of capability. it used to be that that superpowers like the united states had a really advantage in espionage right only the government, really and maybe the soviet union could launch billion dollar satellites and have massive capabilities of code breaking and code making well now anyone can gather that kind of data and anyone can analyze that kind of data ai capabilities are available on the internet. they don't require a degree in computer science. we have satellite imagery. we can all you know, if you have an act if you have access to the internet you have access to google earth, so there are and and events are live tweeted right so we can track things on twitter. so now we have to think about intelligence competitors today being much more spread out and it's a much more crowded playing field for us intelligence agencies. okay. so who are the competitors? well, the main competitors are of course nation states, but anybody can do this now. so if we think about on the good guy side of things right and
think about nuclear threats, there are all sorts of people outside the us government that are tracking nuclear threats and they're doing a really good job. some of them are colleagues at stanford, right, but you know in the in the past year for example news came to light about these hundreds of chinese nuclear missile silos that were previously unknown. well that came to life because of people without security clearances without access to classified information just using commercial satellite imagery and their expertise and posting it online. so people who look at google earth shots of chinese naval yards and north korean missile sites and whatnot and then say look something looks bad. but why are they doing this amy? why isn't the us government or is the us government doing this? we just don't know about it. you mean to do is government tracking these things or is the us government working with these people right? a little scary to think that some individ. not a vigilante but individual amy is looking at google earth and then reporting that look at these chinese ships being built in the naval yard, and the thought is does us government notice on i'd like to think the
us government has step ahead of that of that individual. so the us government is aware of what's going on and i would say and in many cases partnering with non-governmental nuclear sleuths as i roll them, right? so there are partnerships some are more formalized and others, but you put your finger on a key point bill, which is that right now this ecosystem at least in nuclear security is dominated by americans and our western allies. that will not be the case in the future right? it's open anyone can join this world, and we've already had instances where so we say less benign actors or nefarious actors are deliberately trying to inject falsehoods into this ecosystem in the hosts at the us government will fall for it. so it's going to get more complicated will be bad actors and or of them in this ecosystem in the future and the government's aware of it and trying to figure out ways to engage more productively with this non-governmental ecosystem.
right? let's talk about the us government intelligence apparatus amy. i was watching the army navy football game this weekend and during the third quarter commercial came up in the commercial was trying to get you to join the army to get involved in counterintelligence to stop hackers and then it shown on the tagline. it showed all the branches of the armed services including space force. that caught me to thinking who drives the train these days. is it is it the military is it the nsa is that the cia is in honolin security we seem to have a lot of entities devoted these days to the great umbrella of intelligence and counterintelligence. well, the unsatisfying answer who drives the train today. is it depends? okay, so we have 18 different agencies in the us intelligence community today that number often stuns people 18 agencies. we hear about the cia maybe the nsa but they're a lots right and that's much higher than it was 10 years ago or 20 years ago. so whenever we have a crisis the tendency is let's create a new
agency for that and the result is it's really hard to coordinate them all so nominally in charge of this behemoth community is the director of national intelligence that's getting better, but the dni has only limited control over budgets and people and as you know in washington, those are two very powerful lovers if you can't control the budget and you can't control the people you're in the business of trying to persuade and joel right not direct and command and so it's a work in progress how this community works together. and do you think the 18 need to be folded into a dozen or six or would you would you downsize that or would you would you create a super agency to walk over 18? well, would you streamline this? well streamlining is hard, but you know, i people arm wrestle over this all the time, right or do we have too many do we not have enough the benefit i give you the the argument on one side, which is that the reason we have so many agencies is they provide tailored capabilities,
right? so the navy has different intelligence needs than the army and so the navy should have its own intelligence unit to help it with its intelligence priorities there's real truth to that and different agencies have different specialties. so cia is human intelligence, right national security agency is signals intelligence. so email phone calls, right and specialization is has benefits. so i always give the example of doctors, right? no one questions whether doctors should be specialized. you don't want your heart surgeon detecting skin cancer. you don't want your dermatologist operating on your heart. so specialization has benefits the challenge though is how do you harness that specialization? so, you know what everyone knows that's challenge and that's where emboldening and powering the dni which has happened over time has paid some real dividends, but it's still it's still a challenge. it is a challenge maybe getting the agencies to talk to each other. it wasn't this one of the takeaways from 9/11 that digest the is just not a cross-chatter
with them washington about what intelligence we had. yes, and that cross chatter communication is much better than it used to be which is not saying a whole lot right because the bar was low before nine eleven, right, but it is getting better. i have a heretical idea which i've had a lot of people's or arguing with me about which is what we actually really need most is a 19th intelligence agency and i say that with some trepidation because of the coordination challenges we just talked about right the 19th agency would be dedicated entirely to open source intelligence stuff that's publicly available out there on the internet because what's happened in our in with this american, you know, we're talking. out technology because of the advent of new technologies right the whole intelligence battleground has changed right? it used to be that secrets were more of a key secret still matter, but now insights coming from harnessing lots of openly
available data and secrets will always be primary in secret agencies. so no no existing agency is giving public information the attention that it deserves and you're not going to get that unless you get a new agency trying to harness the internet to be saying it sounds a little bit like drinking from a fire hydrant in terms of collecting information. so how would you actually physically what you just have an army of pardon me nerds and pajamas and basements around world going through going through and how would you how would you actually attack the unit at that way? well, a lot of it can be you know, how can technology help us with technology? yes, how can things like ai tools augment the human analysts, right? we have just far too much data for anybody to process at any one time. to give you some idea, you know the amount of data is estimated on earth to double every 24 months, right? that's an astounding level of data. but algorithms can help make sense of that data, right? so i'll give you a concrete example that happened actually at stanford within the past
year. so i have two colleagues who wanted to better understand trade between north korea and china. and so what they decided you was look at the imagery of trucks crossing between the border between these two countries and let's go back several years. they thought and let's analyze the truck traffic between these just to get a sense of what can we derive from looking at this and so without any computer science training, they developed a machine learning algorithm so that the machine would automate the scanning of the trucks across the border, right? and what would take a human analyst roughly a month to do they're very basic algorithm did in 20 minutes. that's the kind of benefit we can get from harnessing technology to understand this overwhelming question data. right, but you would still need the human element to eliminate what a certain somebody would call fake news. absolutely, and when the idea is that you if you you humans can
do best no machine is going to be able to define the intentions of north korea for example, or to consider alternative hypotheses, or to ask. why is this the case right? it can just have pattern pattern recognition is the real benefit of these tools. okay, so where would that 19th agency amy said in a flow chart of the federal government. you're really -- me and a good way bill. so i would say the 19th agency would be independent. there's been a big debate about could you put such an agency in the cia? could you put it in the state department? i think it needs to be a standalone agency. and here's the thing. it should not be inside the beltway or at least not entirely inside the beltway because if you want to attract the best minds of tomorrow, you need to go where the talent lives right? so imagine a forward. floyd agency which with offices in places like silicon valley and austin, texas and denver, colorado, and now you've got this open source stuff so you can experiment with new technology tools in a more
ongoing way. so it's not just the stuff that an open source agency could provide it's the people and it's the processes of innovation. okay, see what an agency that's independent and outside of washington. yes. you are a heretic. i am indeed. it's it's time for heretical thinking though. okay. i want to read something you wrote for political back in september amy's. this is my way of saying good time to grab the water if you've got it sitting by you. so here's what you wrote. this is on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks quote 20 years after 9/11 the united states faces escalating threats from china russia, iran and north korea conflict in cyberspace as well as physical space and global challenges like climate change and pandemics the cia needs to regain the balance between fighting and terrorist enemies of today and providing the intelligence to detect understand and stop the enemies of tomorrow. yes, and you know, this is something where people inside the intelligence community have been discussing this balance for a long time. right and it's interesting bill.
i got a lot of feedback from that article more than i have and just about anything i've written in the past couple of years people inside the government saying that they thought this was exactly the case. so in intelligence, you have to balance between dealing with urgent and dealing with important threats, right? my argument was there's no organization other than the cia. i mean whose primary mission primary mission is preventing strategic surprise, right? and the more the cia gets sucked into the day-to-day counters counterterrorism paramilitary activities and supporting them the less time it has to prevent strategic surprise with all these other threats in the world. and so the balance has tilted far too much toward tactical warfighting intelligence. and that's not say it's it's unimportant, but it has to be in balance and the cia's balance is out of whack and it needs to get back to a more balanced
portfolio of activities the last time the cia's mission would have been examined. amy would have been what the mid 70s. i think the cia's mission was examined pretty carefully after 9/11 and the surge right of activity and we got pretty good at the sort of support of counterterrorism activities. so it's a it was a success at one moment, but the but the you know, the the threat landscape never sleeps and so we have to constantly adapt and that's it's and i think for really pretty dramatic change in intelligence today. i'm curious amy about who goes to work for intelligence the united states these days my father may rest in peace with the university of virginia the mid 1950s amy and has he told me one time. he said the government was very present on the campus and three regards one was the military. my father was rotc. so a lot of kids there are to see the second amy was state department recruiting one of his fraternity maids actually became a career foggy bottom person. just they wanted bright young men and women to go into foreign
service, but then the third amy was the cia which my father said went discreetly stop by once a year and it encouraged young men in particular to sit down and take an aptitude test to see if they had kind of what it took to get in the world of espionage. so it's the cia doing the same. are they reaching around? are they going around the country and looking for the best and brightest in campuses or where they drawing talent? i think the cia to its credit is increasingly drawing talent from across the country. so it used to be that it. want i mean back in the old days from a very small set of schools right mostly on the east coast too, right? those days are really gone. and i think the cia is really recruiting from a much broader talent pool, and i think the internet helps this too right it's easier to to go on the cia website and see what it's about but there is but there are still big problems with cia recruiting and director burns has talked about one of them publicly, which is it takes too long to get people through the security
clearance process through the hiring process and in the door two years on average and if you're talking about recruiting the best and brightest, they've got lots of other opportunities while they're waiting for those two years and once they're in other jobs, it's hard, you know, it's much harder to them recruit them to go inside so that lag time between when someone wants to join the agency and when they actually can has got to shrink and director burns has said is one of his primary goals is shrinking that time from two years to six months. what does it take two years amy? oh, i wish i knew the answer to that bill. i don't know obviously you have to vet somebody for security and all that learn the roast, but two years is a long time to find out if somebody is loyal to their country or not. it's a really long time and it the backlog is insane and i don't know why it takes so long. i don't know why we can't accelerate it. it'll be interesting to see if the agency can do it. i can't tell you. i have a number of cases of
former students who really wanted to serve their country and went through this process and it took so long by the time they they heard back from the agency. they had already committed to other things. okay your thoughts amy on the trump administration's china initiative. this was the initiative. they wrote about 2018 to counter chinese economic. yes, you know i think the trump administrations idea that this is a problem is a correct diagnosis, right? i mean are you know our universities are wide open? we know that china is committing rampant espionage the fbi opens a new china counterintelligence investigation on average once every 10 hours, right? so this is a real no kidding problem, right the question is how do you attack it? and i think there's been a lot of criticism justly so that countering chinese espionage can lead to xenophobia can lead to racism can lead to unjustly
accusing loyal american citizens naturally citizens of betraying their country when in fact they did it so correct diagnosis of the problem concerned about the remedy not actually solving the problem and maybe making things worse. yeah. i think amy's mits technology review just look took a study at the trying to initiative and came to con. and that it might be have the right intention, but it found that just a lot of the cases have very little obvious connection or just don't have an impact on national security. so it sounds like we just casting an awfully wide net and i think part of the fundament if we're if we want to dig deeper. why did this program go so astray, right? i think part of the problem is the fbi is still in its bones a law enforcement agency, right? it is designed to look for perpetrators who commit crimes after the fact and this challenge is an intelligence challenge, right? it's a challenge of peace in together information to try to prevent bad things from happening and it requires much more analysis and the fbi has
always struggled to improve its analytic capabilities. i think it's really telling that in the bureau today. no analyst by fbi regulations can lead an fbi field office. right? right. so if you have to have operators the folks with the guns are the only people who can office it tells you how little stock the agency puts on good analysis. okay. let's talk about the fbi for second amity, november 5th federal jury convicts a gentleman in young juju. he's a chinese national deputy division director of the six bureau of the jeans of the jung soo province ministry of state security is convicted amy of conspiring to an attempting to commit economic espionage and theft of trade secrets. what stands out here is he is the first chinese intelligence officer to be extraordinated the us to stand trial mr. she was i mentioned convicted two counts of conspiring an attempting commit economic espionage also convicted of conspiracy and commit trade secret theft along comes alan kohler amy. he is the assistant director of
the fbi's counterintelligence division and here's what he said quote. this was state-sponsored economic espionage by the people's republic of china designed to steal american technology to put americans out of work for those who doubt the real goals of the prc. this should be a wake-up call. they are stealing american technology to benefit their economy military. the fbi is partnering with over 50 government. is us government agencies to share information and investigate a resources to stop the prc's illegal activities. so now we've gone from 18 intelligence agencies amy to 50 us government agencies involved in trying to track town chinese bad guys. well, it sounds like from the way you presented that billy you share my skepticism that coordination across 50 different agencies is going to be seamless. so on the one hand, this is on the one hand. this is encouraging. this is a whole of society problem. it's not a whole of government problem. right and we have to have the fbi working in coordination with other agencies to do it. the question is are we attacking this in the right way, right?
so i have real concerns about how the bureau is approaching this set of challenges and i think that one of the ways that we should be thinking about it. well, they're number ways number one the fact that there are for example tens of thousands of chinese graduate students in the united states studying today. we want to courage brain drain from china right? i want those students to come here. stay here. get a visa become americans and support our country. right? but the fact that there are 35,000 chinese graduate students in stem fields tells me there are 35,000 american students who weren't good enough to get in so part of the challenge part of dealing with the chinese counterintelligence challenge is figuring out how we up our own game. how do we have our own education system produce more people at the cutting edge of these fields and how do we raise awareness too? basic awareness about keeping our key technologies within the
country. so i think we you know education can go a long way toward dealing with counterintelligence challenges. i give you an example. if i'm concerned about a counterintelligence issue on the stanford campus. who do i call? what are the protocols? where's the brain trust that figures out the policies so we can we can adjudicate between the costs and benefits of taking one step or another and are those consistent across american research universities. there's a lot that's unknown and undeveloped because there's this sort of third rail sort of i think attitude about chinese espionage chinese espionage is real that's not to say that every chinese graduate student should be put under suspicion, but it is to say we need to think hard about the best way to attack this problem. well, there's only really look at the story mr. shoe amy, and that's he was caught red-handed and just has been delivered and you can either see this is the preview of coming attractions or he's being held up as an example if this is a preview of coming
attraction, so amy what i'm curious about is, how does china respond to us cracking down at espionage? do they start arresting americans in china? for example? well, it's interesting because china because our espionage human intelligence network in china was blown. i mean really blown several years ago destroyed and there's a big question about why that is but there's no question that it happened and our assets in china many of them were executed many of them were in prison and this is all probably available information. so if we're talking about a -- for tap response, one of the one of the you know, silver linings on the otherwise dark cloud of the fact that are human intelligence network was blown in the past decade. is that there aren't that many sources the united states has today in china for them to arrest. so i mean, it's a pretty dark cloud, but i'm i'm you know, grasping for silver linings here. you know, what china arrest americans will we seen china
arrest canadian citizens in pure retaliation for the arrest of a chinese national in canada, so i wouldn't put anything past. agent ping regime. okay. let's talk russia. now what russia different endgame russia is not after economic secrets. it seems russia. amy just seems after mischief. russia also seemed to be after money if you look at these ransomware attacks, what do they have in common? they're not launched by nation states hackers are launched by criminal gangs with one purpose in mind. they want money and the kremlin seems to sanction what they're doing. so, how does the us react to what's going on? what's coming out of russia? well greed is a perennial motivator of all sorts of bad activity, right? i think we've seen the the vitaministration really struggle with this problem. understandably. so ransomware is a really hard problem to attack because because crime pays and there's always going to be somebody who didn't install the patch or you know, configure their networks properly. so the victims are a plenty and
ransomware is going to continue. i think general knockasoni the command of cyber command has said he doesn't see ransomware going away anytime soon. i will say, you know, the vitaministration is you know, this fall how old a ransomware essentially summit a working group of more than 30 countries around the world to try to collectively raise the costs of ransomware and develop common collaboration and approaches and i think that's a promising start. we've got to raise the cost make it harder for ransomware to succeed and improve coordination across like-minded countries. go after, you know major culprits, right? so amy if the cold war was defined by mutually assured discretion destruction. could we say that cyber warfare is defined by what i might call mutually short disruption. because when you shut down a pipeline, you're not destroying the pipeline you just stopping the pipeline if you take down somebody's grid the grid will come up eventually. you're just using it for ransom extortion if you will or am i missing something here can cyberlax should be used in the
same way. you could use missiles to take out things. so i think cyber is actually not a world of mutual assured disruption. i think it's much worse. i think it's asymmetric disruption so we actually cannot hold other countries in mutual risk, like we could with nuclear weapons in the cold war which kept the cold war whole we are asymmetrically vulnerable in the united states because we rely on computer networks and systems for everything in our society for economy for our military for innovation for education in a way that other countries don't and we're also asymmetrically vulnerable because of our freedom of speech. so russia can polarize american society by spreading false nar. about everything because we're open. and so we are disproportionately vulnerable because we are a western capitalist democracy and we're vulnerable in ways that
authoritarian regimes are not so i think it's a much more complicated world in cyberspace and it requires less emphasis on deterrence this mutual assured destruction or disruption, which we cannot actually win if we do that and we have to get back to basics about defense actually making our systems harder to penetrate and resilience making them able to get back in operation if and when they are attacked so that getting back to basics, right? so this right now amy something with three-way struggle between the uk germany and russia and it's over the uk's desire to extraditis suspected by for russia who had been working at the british embassy in berlin reportedly, this is a german man who is convicted of passing floor plans of buildings used in the blunderstag and so forth. i'm curious to why russia's engaging espionage like this amy to what end. is a reflection of vladimir putin just being a kgb guy and he likes to thrive this way. what what does russia's endgame with doing this? i wish i could get.
inside i don't know what his endgame is. i think he is a kgb guy. he never met an intelligence operation. he didn't like and he's very risk accepted. so one of the things that strikes me about what putin has done in espionage is he's violated the fundamental rules of the road that existed for for the entire cold war so you think about moscow rules people have talked about, you know, there were unwritten words about that kept the guard rails in place during the cold war. so, um, you know, we wouldn't kill a soviet asset. they wouldn't kill an american asset. we'd imprison each other's spies and then we'd swap them for example, right, but think about what putin has ordered right? he tried to kill a former russian military officer. are gays for paul and his daughter living in london, right santa hit team out to kill them both. i mean, that's extraordinary and that's not the only time he's
tried to do it. so what you see is a blatant disregard for prior norms and rules of the road and just about every aspect of foreign policy and you see putin sort of violating these things in every in every aspect of foreign policy, but i'm curious to what russia's in game. here's amy because we look at chinese espionage and it's very simple. it's it's competition for economic supremacy and military supremacy. so very geo strategic in mind, but i'm just not sure what the russians are actor when they're knocking around trying to get building plans of the german parliament. but i think you know if you as you real rightly pointed out china's very strategic everything that china does is very strategic russia is much more tactical. there may be no strategic purpose for what putin has has, you know organized his kgb to do it just could be to to muck up the works in other countries. okay if it were simple as to rate various nations intelligence apparati, where would you put the us amy? are we we the best in the world or we in the top five the top 10, where would you rank us?
i certainly put us in the top tier. i'd like to say we're number one because i think you know the united states is pretty great country. i'm more worried though that china has surpassed us on the intelligence front in a couple of ways you talked about theft of of economic trade secrets and intellectual property. this is a huge deal. we think that power today is not what it used to be power isn't military might we have that we spend the most in our military. we have the most powerful military in the world, but we're not the most powerful country in the world in the way that we used to be because economic power is much more important. and so china is poised really to overtake the united states in terms of technology and economic power. there's a report issued about technological competition with china by harvard just last week and it's pretty scary actually to read those results. so i think china is largely leapfrogging the united united
states and dual use technology. because it has stolen its way ahead of us to a large extent. so i put china ahead of us in terms of that element of espionage in terms of countering our own networks in china, but i don't think it's a permanent advantage and i think we have sources of strength that are enduring intelligence advantages. we have a lot we have a much more eclectic workforce that speaks many different languages comes from many different cultures. that's a huge intelligence advantage for us. for example, our open society or innovation and our technological tools could be a huge advantage if our intelligence community can harness those tools and use them for insight. so we have the capabilities, but i think we haven't exploited them enough and intelligence, right which put israel in this equation amy because of one thing pop culturatosis is really is a really good intelligence be a tracking down eichmann be it trying to disrupt iran's nuclear ambitions be a tracking down the
terr. miracles so forth the israelis always complete their mission. they always get the job done is really intelligence is superb. so in the top tier, i would put the us china russia and israel. okay, israelis are superb on the technical side. they're superb on the human side the superb analysis. and by the way, they're very active. it's fine against the united states. so make no mistake about it our allies spy on us and we spun our allies with rare exception, right? that's what i want to get to next just the rules of the road. it's okay to spy on your allies. you know, there's a very small group of countries that actually don't spy on each other and they're the five eyes, right? so it's the us the uk. canada australia and new zealand those five countries have a very close intelligence partnership beyond that. it's a jungle and everybody is spying on everybody and we know it the french spy on us, right we want to understand what eu
countries are doing what their political decision-making is where they're likely to go with. back to china. that's how this game works and everybody knows it. okay, does the united states spy on itself amy? what do you mean in terms of do we spy on ourselves? do we do domestic surveillance of individuals? i'm curious and post 9/11 america in terms of worrying about islamic terrorism in terms of worrying about domestic terrorism. how does intelligence the united states turn upon the american population. so the us intelligence community has very clear legal prohibitions about domestic surveillance. so one of the things that's that really makes the us stand apart is our intelligence services not trained on. or shouldn't be and haven't in with rare exception. haven't been on domestic surveillance. right? so if you think about russia, right russia's intelligence apparatus is aimed at its own people like deliberately so so the fbi is the only organization in the us intelligence community
that has as part of its mandate domestic intelligence collection. so it is with rare exception that an agency like the national security agency would collect deliberately against americans and when it did after 9/11 with the widely reported warrantless surveillance program, it was a big controversy not just among the american people but inside the nsa itself. there's a lot of debate and concern about targeting and remember this wasn't the content of communications. i want to be clear. this was the nsa's metadata program, which was to understand basically your telephone call records the number you called how long the call was it wasn't the content of the call. it wasn't the identity of the person that you were calling and the idea was could we then query that data? could nsa query that data to have terrorists in custody had called any of those numbers or numbers related to those
numbers. so this was the program that generated a lot of controversy a rare exception and intelligence targeting americans and that program was ended by congress. so ultimately i think the oversight regime worked, right? what are the lessons of the patriot act amy? i think the lessons of the patriot act or for the intelligence community to be more forthcoming about what it's doing earlier and that is an unnatural act for intelligence agencies, right? but michael hayden who ran the national security agency said he believed it was a political mistake for the agency not to share with congress and the american people sooner. what it was doing so that if people knew about it, they would have after 9/11 supported it. i think he's right about that and that tendency of intelligence agencies to keep too much secret actually hurts the public trust they have to have to do their jobs. you know looking at american
presidents amy. i think there was one george hw bush who was the director of the cia at one point. i think every other president amy though who came into office did not have that kind of intelligence background. maybe joe biden is familiar with the intelligence apparatus through his years in the senate and vice president so forth, but since maybe a lot of presidents start from scratch when they come to the white house and they first get their intelligence briefings they deal with the intelligence community and sometimes president is fine frustration, jack kennedy famously. wanted to break the cia. thank you said to a thousand pieces after them. they have pigs fiasco. you're not in your head in accordance here. i see how should a incoming president face prepare for the intelligence community. is it a simple trust what you get? is that should we go back to is a gorbitrov and trust verify how does a president learn to accept the intelligence he or she has given? so i think presidents need to understand that intelligence isn't a crystal ball, right because all presidents want intelligence to tell them what's going to happen, right and
nobody can do that the presidents i think also need to understand that as susan gordon put it. sue gordon was the number two intelligence official from 2017 to 2019. she said all presidents are frustrated because we steal their decision space and by that she means that intelligence agencies have the job of telling presidents things. they might not want to hear how their policies might not work how things are going and foreign countries in ways that the president doesn't like and so presidents need to understand that but i would argue that skepticism is a good thing for president. intelligence agencies don't have a monopoly on insight of what's going to happen in the world. they're doing the best they can but there is no such thing as ground truth in the intelligence. business so skepticism is healthy debate is healthy. and so i think for president to use intelligence effectively, they should be pushing the intelligence community. how do you know this is the
case? what are the alternative assessments? how would we know if you're wrong and i think that kind of dialogue between the president and his intelligence community is actually very healthy thing to have. okay, pearl harbor 9/11 and iraqi wmds. what are they having in common intelligence fias goes one way or another. is there common thread between them amy? the common thread is at least for me and you know, i i see everything through an organizational lens. so for me the common thread of those is that the organizations were the problem that if you could have put superman in charge of intelligence in pearl harbor and 9/11 and a rock and you still would have gotten intelligence failure. why right the case of pearl harbor we had clues of japan's intent and the likelihood of attack at pearl harbor, but we didn't put those together in time, right? so it's too fragmented. that's why we got the central intelligence agency nine eleven.
same thing. we had 23 opportunities to penetrate that plot. it's research i've done and the cia and the fbi missed every single one in part because they couldn't share or coordinate with they were doing wmd is a little bit of a different story there. it was really a collection failure. we didn't collect the right information and an analysis failure, right? so our intelligence analyst didn't scrub, they're thinking enough to ask what if saddam were actually not developing his weapons of mass destruction. so but again, this was an organizational problem. and so there were a lot of reforms after iraq to improve that. so for example dissenting views are now much more highlighted in national intelligence estimates before they were relegated to footnotes. well, you know people are busy and they don't tend to read footnotes. so if you have a dissenting point of view, it needs to be in the body of the text as a result of iraq now, there's a much
greater attention to how confident or intelligence analysts in the judgments. they're making so organizational problems with organizational solutions and are people willing to speak up within the intelligence community again pop culture shows us a movie or go for example where ben affleck plays the cia operative who boldly stands up and says by god, we're gonna do it this way and shoots down the other ideas and so forth. in other words you get this kind of heroic idea. in part because he is willing to buck the system or really defy defy the status quo, but just intelligence really work like that in real life amy. i think when it works, well, it does right. so one of the great examples of people coming to different points of view was the hunt for osama bin laden. there's this great moment. this white house situation room meeting where president obama goes around the room to his intelligence officials and says, what do you think the percentage is that this guy? we've been following who they've dug the pacer is actually osama. bin laden goes around the room and there was and the estimates
they've already read the same intelligence right the estimates range from 40% we think it's been laden to 95% we think it's been on it now. i think this is fascinating right and why is this the case? well, it turns out that the percentage estimates really hinge on the analyst prior experience. so those who were burned by a rock. wmd? we're much more skeptical that the pace was actually been lauded those who had come off recent intelligent successes encounter terrorism. we're are confident in what they had same information different probability estimates. that is a good thing right to have people talking through their differences and why they believe what they believe. okay, so getting back to the idea of getting information yes or no from culture to zero dork 30 get that whole story, right? oh boy, you know i could go on for a long time about zero dark thirty and why that movie no this short answer.
your question is no zero dark. thirty does not get it. right so quickly. what did it get wrong quickly? so it actually the theme that i have that i have just told you this meeting about is the pace urban bin laden or not is one of the good scenes of the movie. they actually capture that really well and there's this wonderful part in the scene where the the main analyst named maya says, you know, it's a hundred percent that it's been lauded and then she says well, okay 95% because i know certainty freaks you guys out right? that's that's very, you know, true to life the the part of the movie that really upsets me and disturbs me is that it gives the impression that enhanced interrogation methods very controversial methods, which some regard as torture were the critical key the key to finding bin long and in fact, not only do it's not don't take my word for it the acting cia director when the movie was released a
guy named michael morell also was so concerned that the movie portrayed itself as a do. salary, right because it starts by saying based on firsthand account of actual events, right? that sounds much more documentary-ish than hollywood ish. he had to write a memo to the cia workforce clarifying that the movie was not factual and he focused on this specific issue that there were multiple streams of intelligence that led to bin laden and that these detainees and harsh interrogation techniques were only one part of what led to bin laden so when the head of the cia has to write a memo to the cia about the cia. that movie is not just a movie. okay, i think we start a new podcast for hoover in this just united down and picking apart intelligence movies argo as the same problem is the the ending in argo the real life first what happened in our go as you know, just as nowhere near as dramatic as i'm sitting on that airplane in the iranians chasing him down the tarmac and so forth, but,
you know only in hollywood, i guess you have to have drama. right, i think. you have a separate podcast dissecting intelligence movies because everyone loves movies i and i love having those my homework to watch more spything movies. so i love them as as the next person. we could go down james bond, too. apparently he's going to be transgender in the next outing or something like that. there's gonna be a politically correct james james bond in our future. well the last horrible because i don't want to you know, give any spoilers to our to our listeners, but you know, you don't really want to see james bond end nor do you really want to see james bond as a family guy? i don't think so. i don't think that's true to character. it's funny. actually, they married him in one. i think it's the george lazerby movie where they married him off and just the audience did not like it. well, i thought they killed his wife pretty cool pretty pretty soon thereafter. well, they did apparently audience approved of that as well. okay? no, go ahead. no, let's go say so you put out a book in which you're trying to
explain the history of espionage and trying to lay out very clearly where else should people go to toronto get, you know, separate facts and fiction. i think it's hard bill. i mean, i think it's one of the reasons i wrote this book was because i felt they're really weren't very many places to turn and one of the things one of the things i really tried to do in this book, which was hard. it was to provide a balanced view a very controversial issues, right? we've talked about warrantless wiretapping and interrogation techniques. i think it's very hard to find places that will give you the most compelling arguments on both sides of the story, right? and so i took great pains to try to do that. look because this is a textbook for undergraduates. so i'm teaching a class based on this book at stanford in the spring and i want my students to read both sides of the interrogation debate and i want them to have to grapple with the evidence that each side brings to bear for its side of the
story. i don't think we get that in very many places. yeah if i had to but an answer your question if i had to suggest where else should people turn to understand intelligence. i would encourage people to look at the annual intelligence threat assessment happens around february march every year. there's an unclassified hearing before congress, right and the head of the intelligence community actually lays out the best unclassified assessments about dangers confronting the country and it's right there on google you can google dni threat assessment every year and i think they're really insightful documents that shed a lot of light on how the intelligence community is thinking. it's your class unique in america in terms of teaching kids about intelligence to other schools go down the same road. it's unfortunately all too rare. so one of the things i did was i looked at how many of the top 25 universities ranked by us news offered any courses on intelligence and the answer is less than half of them do and in fact, i found that more
universities offer courses on the history of rock and roll than intelligence, which i say now because undergraduates better chance of learning about youtube the band rather than youtube despite playing so we have an intelligence education crisis in this country and one of the things i'm doing with this class is i'm developing all sorts of materials including a simulation then i'm going to make available to anyone who wants to teach a class on intelligence so we can do a better job of educating the next generation. okay, so if i test you with creating a rushmore of intelligence in america four figures who go up on the side of a mountain saying this is the store of american intelligence, would you put up there? oh, well first i'd have to put george washington. no question. he was an avid spymaster and he was better at intelligence actually than waging warfare on the battlefield. so washington would certainly be up there. second it's a good question.
i would probably put this may be an unusual choice. um, would put a russian. who betrayed the soviet union to help the united states and his name was dimitri polyakov? polyakov code name top hat his information was so important and he didn't do it for the money. he did it because he believed in america. his information was so important cia officials described it as like christmas every time some of his information came. he was betrayed by a cia mole named aldrich james and he was executed. so i would probably put him up there as someone who courageously served the right side of history. so i have george washington and top hat in there. i'd say frank church the head of the church committee in congress in the 1970s like senator from late senator from idaho. he conducted the most serious one of the most serious and
sweeping investigations in history it revealed some of the darker days of our intelligence community spying on americans assassination plots above you mentioned exploding cigars assassination tends against fidel castro. and as a result of that committee, we have the oversight regime today that has really helped i think us intelligence both in terms of garnering trust and curbing excesses. so i put french church up there. and then i'd say george hw bush right up you mentioned one of the you know, the only president who served as cia director really understood the intelligence community and supported it at a very challenging time as the cold war was ending very interesting. okay good choices. all right final question for you. amy your class next spring. let's say that you do it all professor's aspire to you inspire your your students and a student subs as dr. zegart. i'm so inspired about what you've taught me. i want to get into espionage.
so what's your advice if i'm if a young person wants to get an espionage these days. what should the young person do? well, i would first ask that student. what kind of espionage do you want to analyze intelligence or do you want to go out and convince people to spy on behalf of the united states? those are two very different paths and actually maybe before that pro-american espionage or anti-american speech. i'm so do you want right but very different skill sets very different personality types and a very different career path and if they do want to do it, i would encourage them to apply to the central intelligence agency or to other intelligence agencies. there's no more important time for intelligence than today. and i would also encourage the student, you know students today don't want to be lifers. they don't want to spend 25 years in one career, but you can start in the intelligence community and then move on to other careers and serve your country in other ways. it's awfully hard to start in a different career and then move into the intelligence community
so start where you can and i would say start by serving in the government. that's interesting funny, you know, the martians full of so called bel-way bent. it's people who check out in the military after 20 years and use what they learn in the military to go into government related work. but if i'm checking out of the cia after 20 years what transferable skills do i have in the private sector? well, one of the things bill that's interesting is you have to get your resume approved right elite, right? so you may not even be able to say what transferable skills you have, right? so that's a challenge. for getting a job once you leave right? but i would say if you're on the analytics side the transferable skills. you have are analyzing really difficult problems, right? that's the critical thinking that we say that we'd like to teach undergraduates at stanford and we like to teach our graduate students cia analyst get that, you know in in spades, so i think those are incredible training transferable skills working with people you have to work with other people intelligence is not a lone ranger enterprise, right? you have to put your heads
together with others and dealing with dissent which i think we know usually provides better outcomes whether you're in business or whether you're in the government. so those are three really important skill sets that i think analysts inside the agency get. okay final question amy if we could get the president united states to read your book and i can get you quality facetime with the and what would you tell him about intelligence and what improvements would you suggest if i could say one thing to the president? it's that this is a moment that requires transformational change in the intelligence community business as usual is going to set the united states back by generations. this is a moment of technological change unlike anything. we have experienced. we have never had so many path-breaking technologies converging at the same time ai the internet. it's commercial satellites quantum computing synthetic biology just to name a few it is an adapt or fail moment for the intelligence community and the
adaptation required means harnessing open source information and getting out of only being in the secrets business to the extent that the community has been. okay, you're an optimist or a pessimist? do you think the government gets this? i'm at heart and timist fast enough to make a difference. i see um real it on adopting new technologies inside the intelligence community, but we have to run faster. i'm an optimist, but i'm impatient for change. okay, speaking of optimistic. i hope you have a great book tour handling this i hope covid doesn't treat you too. roughly out there on the book trail and you get to do a lot of events and sell a lot of books. thanks so much. okay. well amy again. thanks for joining us today on the hoover book club and more importantly. thank you for all you do on behalf of the hoover institution. the title again abc guards book is spies lies and algorithms the history and future of american intelligence if you want to follow amy on twitter.
yes. she is there her twitter handle. is that amy ziegard? i'll spell it out for you. that is m a m y z e g a r t at amy ziegart you could also sign up for the hoover daily report, which will deliver you the best work of m e z guard to your inbox every weekday very simple to do that. just go to hoover dot or click on the publications tab go to where it says daily report and subscribe and anytime maybe writes or says something. there you are. noah tells usf his book history