- Show Notes
This special national security focused episode of Stay Tuned, “The New Threat Matrix,” is co-hosted by Lisa Monaco and Ken Wainstein.
Both Lisa and Ken have served at the highest levels of government — at the Justice Department and as presidential advisors on matters of homeland security and counterterrorism. Lisa served under President Barack Obama, and Ken under President George W. Bush. They also both served as Chief of Staff to then-FBI Director Robert Mueller.
In this episode, Lisa and Ken do a deep dive on the national security implications of the coronavirus pandemic and break down the issues the U.S. would confront in the event of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s death or incapacitation.
Lisa and Ken’s conversation continues for members of CAFE Insider community. The special Insider bonus material covers the latest news on FISA and the historical context that helps us make sense of the recent Inspector General reports. Plus, the recent firing of Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson and what that means for U.S. national security. To listen, become a member of CAFE Insider.
And sign up to receive the CAFE Brief, a free weekly newsletter featuring analysis of politically charged legal news, historical deep dives, and links to all CAFE content.
Write to us with your thoughts and questions at [email protected]
Recorded on 4/30/20
REFERENCES & SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS
Lisa Monaco, O’Melveny
Ken Wainstein, Davis Polk
- Lisa & Ken’s first podcast conversation: Stay Tuned National Security Special, 2/4/20
- Special episode of CAFE Insider, featuring Lisa Monaco: Extraordinary Times, 3/17/20
- Lisa Monaco joined Preet on Stay Tuned to help answer listener questions, 6/21/18
- Lisa Monaco shares the story of her career in her first appearance on Stay Tuned: Behind Closed Doors: Advising Obama & Mueller, 9/28/17
- Lisa Monaco and Michelle Flournoy, “Now’s Not the Time for Isolationism,” Politico, 4/8/20
- “What caused the coronavirus? A skeptical take on the theories about the outbreak’s Chinese origin,” The Washington Post, 4/16/20
- The U.N. Biological Weapons Convention – on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction
- Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense, homepage and reports
- A bill proposed by Senators Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Chris Murphy (D-CT): “To authorize a comprehensive, strategic approach for United States foreign assistance to developing countries to strengthen global health security, and for other purposes.”
- The 9-11 Commission report and related materials
- Rep. Adam Schiff’s press release and draft legislation: To establish the Commission on the COVID–19 Pandemic in the United States.
- “Under Fire For Coronavirus Response, Trump Officials Defend Disbanding Pandemic Team,” TIME, 3/19/20
- “President’s intelligence briefing book repeatedly cited virus threat,” The Washington Post, 4/27/20
- President’s Daily Brief: “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US,” 8/6/01 (declassified and approved for release on 4/10/04)
- DOJ Memo: Department of Justice Enforcement Actions Related to COVID-19, 3/24/20
- Harry Litman, “The DOJ Just Made it Too Easy to Link Coronavirus to Terrorism,” Los Angeles Times, 4/2/2020
- Raffaello Pantucci, “After the Coronavirus, Terrorism Won’t Be the Same, Foreign Policy,” Foreign Policy, 4/22/20
Preet Bharara: Hey folks, Preet here. Back in February, we broadcast a special national security focused episode hosted by Lisa Monaco and Ken Wainstein. Both Lisa and Ken have served at the highest levels of government in the justice department and as presidential advisors on matters of Homeland Security and counter terrorism. Lisa served under president Barack Obama and Ken under president George W. Bush. They also both served as chief of staff to then at the eye director Robert Mueller. I’m excited to be sharing a second episode of what will become a regular podcast for members of Cafe Insider that breaks down the most important news on national security and foreign policy. Together, Lisa and Ken bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to any issue making the headlines. And as always, there is so much to make sense of. With that, I turn it over to Lisa and Ken. And as always, please write to us with your thoughts and questions at [email protected]
Lisa Monaco: Hey Ken, great to be back with you. Although I guess with you is kind of a relative term these days.
Ken Wainstein: Yeah, it’s by remote mechanisms, but good to be with you.
Lisa Monaco: Yeah, it’s kind of amazing when I think about. The last time we were together recording this podcast, we were sitting together in a studio, no masks, no six feet separation. I think the table was maybe three feet wide.
Ken Wainstein: We gave each other a good old fashioned hug.
Lisa Monaco: Indeed. Boy, those were the days. And the only thing between us I think were two big fuzzy microphones, and that was about it.
Ken Wainstein: And I was breathing all over that microphone. The next person probably used it with my microbes on it.
Lisa Monaco: But it’s really, so this was, I guess we recorded the first episode a couple of months ago at the end of January. I think the episode ran on February 4th, and it’s really stunning to think about just how much our world has changed. And even as we’re keeping track of all the coronavirus news that is just evolving minute by minute, there’s been so much more going on. I think when we sat down last time, we wanted to have a discussion about national security issues that weren’t being focused on. Because at the time we were all so focused on impeachment. So I thought maybe today we should talk about certainly the what’s going on in the coronavirus and all the developments there.
Lisa Monaco: Because there of course has been a lot, but also some of the other things that have been going on while we’ve all been focused on coronavirus. So I think we’ll cover today obviously where we are with COVID-19, talk about something that’s really been getting a lot more attention, which is how did this really come about? There’s been lots of debate, bunch of conspiracy theories about what are the real origins of the coronavirus. And lots of constant reassessment of just how prepared were we and frankly why weren’t we better prepared. And we’ve got new news coming out almost daily about what the intelligence community knew in January and early February and what it was telling the president. Brand new reporting on that. And what does all this mean for our role in the world.
Ken Wainstein: Yeah. And then at the same time, we’ve got number other issues out there. There are new developments about the FISA process at the FBI. We got intelligence community leaders being fired and the implications that those firings have. And then we have a world leader who’s disappeared from view, and everybody’s making guesses as to where he is or isn’t.
Lisa Monaco: Right. Kim Jong-Un.
Ken Wainstein: Yeah. All of these issues out there. So why don’t we get at it? To start off with the coronavirus, I want to sort of give you a shout out to begin with because back in late January when we had our last podcast, you were the one who was sort of ringing the alarm bells in our conversation and then during the podcast about how serious this could become. And I remember sort of spinning out the scenario of quarantining that some of these people who are coming off the cruise ships would be quarantined and the people they’d had contact with would be quarantined. And we sort of agreed that that could be a serious situation. But I never in my wildest dreams thought that the whole country would be quarantined, much less the whole world. And didn’t even know the term social distancing. Now it’s a term I use 100 times a day and it’s a new reality. So you saw this coming thanks to your experience with Ebola, but boy I think 99.99% of the rest of us didn’t see it coming.
Lisa Monaco: Well look, I sure didn’t take any pride in being prescient on this stuff. But yeah, I do remember when the last time we talked, we were talking about the topics we should cover. And you’re right, I said we got to talk about the coronavirus because this is going to be a big deal. But we should just kind of give people a bit of a level set. So it was just three months ago when the United States, I think the first case of coronavirus, we should remind people was confirmed in the United States on January 20th in Seattle, Washington. And when we taped our last episode, there were only I think about a dozen cases in the United States at the end of January, early February. China had 20,000 cases, and there were only about a little over 200 cases worldwide. And as we sit here today, or you sit in Virginia and I sit in Washington DC, there’s globally over 3 million cases and 227,000 deaths globally. And of course, this week the United States has passed a really, really grim milestone of a million cases and over 61,000 deaths. So we’ve traveled a long ways as a country in terms of as you said, we’ve got a new lexicon. Social distancing. Flattening the curve is a hashtag, wasn’t even a phrase a couple months ago. But the toll that this has taken in those sheer numbers, it’s kind of mind boggling.
Ken Wainstein: Astonishing. It really hit when I saw a headline yesterday that more people have died of coronavirus here in the United States than were killed in the Vietnam War, than U.S. soldiers who died in Vietnam war. So let’s go back to the beginning. You know, how this came about. So it’s a bat borne virus. It was obviously transmitted. There was zoonotic transmission from an animal to a human, from this case from a bat. And I’ve read there are a number of different theories about sort of how this disease came about and how it got transmitted. One is that it was in this wet market in Wuhan where the bat virus got into the meats and the like that were being sold there and got to the humans. That was the original story that was put out there. Then there was a question about whether or not a lab in Wuhan that was focusing on research into these kinds of infectious diseases might’ve had an accidental release of the coronavirus that then affected the population and then spread around the world.
Ken Wainstein: And then there’s a third theory that this was actually something that was manufactured as a bio warfare weapon by the Chinese government in one of the labs in Wuhan, and that it then got released and infected the world population that way. My understanding is that third theory that it was a bio weapon that was artificially engineered, has been debunked. Because just looking at the microbe itself or the disease itself, you can see that it’s not something that’s been genetically altered. But the other two theories, which one are you putting money on?
Lisa Monaco: Yeah, so I think you’re absolutely right. Everything I’ve read is that there’s no evidence really to this theory that it was manufactured and then it was manmade. In terms of the other two, similarly the experts who’ve looked at this is that there isn’t evidence at this time that it was something in a naturally occurring pathogen, but that was being researched and then inadvertently leaked out. There’s no evidence of that yet, the experts have said here. But I don’t think we can rule that out.
Lisa Monaco: But I think what there is growing consensus on certainly, and then I don’t think there’s a lot of controversy around, is the fact that China was not as forthcoming as it should have been. In fact, delayed critically by about a week early on in this, in terms of giving out information and making public information about the virus.
Ken Wainstein: But isn’t that sort of suspicious in and of itself? Why would the Chinese government be suppressing information about an outbreak if it was a purely natural outbreak that wasn’t at the fault of any government laboratory? So if it wasn’t a bio weapon or it wasn’t an accidental release, why would they be hiding that information? Is there anything about the Chinese government’s way of doing things in the past that suggests that that might be their standard MO?
Lisa Monaco: Well, sure. I mean I think there’s plenty of history here to that they want to suppress any information that that looks like they weren’t totally on top of even the most naturally occurring phenomenon. Right? So I think that’s quite likely right, that it doesn’t have to be a nefarious origin for them to want to keep control of the information for sure.
Lisa Monaco: But again, we’ll see. No evidence right now that it was a manmade pathogen and for sure lots of indications that they have been not transparent, not forthcoming. And frankly have not let in our experts to to help address origins of this. Help with infectious disease control, help understand the origins of the pathogen. So lots to examine here going forward.
Ken Wainstein: Yeah. Though I think as you point out, that is sort of their default to suppress bad news and try to put the best face on it, even if it’s not something of their own doing. And I’ve heard in a number of different, or read a number of different theories that it was this what market that generated the conditions that allowed the zoonotic transitioned from animal to human. That it was actually bat droppings, guano that was used by farmers. As we know, guano is used by farmers to fertilize their crops. And then maybe a farmer got infected that way and then affected others or that maybe somebody ate a bat and then apparently bats are eaten as a food. And then maybe that was how it happened. So who knows? A lot more to learn there. And as you say, there’ll be intense scrutiny in the future of the intelligence about how it originated and what the Chinese government didn’t do to alert the rest of the world.
Ken Wainstein: Let me ask you moving on, just the fact that we’re even talking about the possibility of a bio weapon, once again that seems to be disproven. But that even the possibility that maybe a government lab would be generating some kind of biological weapon that could sicken and kill thousands or millions. Looking back at our recent history, how realistic do you think that would be? Is that something that we have to worry about, bio warfare by nation states in the near future?
Lisa Monaco: Well, sure. I think it’s something you and I in our former roles as Homeland Security advisors, you to President Bush and meet to President Obama. This is something that was always on our worry list, our very long worry list. And it’s the reason why we’ve had over time the development of things like UN conventions against the use of certain biological and chemical weapons. So that risk has been there for a long time.
Lisa Monaco: The thing I think is interesting Ken, I don’t know what you think about this. But yes, we’re now turning to questions about whether or not this was developed as part of a bio weapons program. But it just reminds me that we have, when it comes to pandemic preparedness and how we think about this stuff, our default has historically been to worry more about a bad guy with a bug than naturally occurring emerging infectious disease.
Lisa Monaco: Right? So we remember in the wake of 9/11 the focus was of course on after the anthrax attacks on whether terrorists and non state actors would use bio weapons or chemical weapons as a kind of tool of terrorism. And then over time, I think we’ve needed to shift our thinking about this to of course keep worrying about the bad guys with the bugs. But when it comes right down to it, and frankly our intelligence community has said this for many years. The more likely and one of the growing threats is of course emerging infectious disease like Ebola, like the coronavirus, like a new strain of flu that we’re not prepared for. And because of our globalized world and the ability to transit quickly and global flows of commerce, etc. That the likelihood that you’re going to have an emerging infectious disease quickly and exponentially spread around the globe and cause the type of dislocation, disruption, both public health and economic. That’s the thing that we’ve needed to be more focused on.
Ken Wainstein: I think you make a very good point. And this is sort of a point of human nature and maybe government nature. And the point being that we tend to focus on the possibility of a manmade threat more readily and more often than we do on a naturally occurring threat. And part of that is because we have a toolkit for a manmade threat, right? We have this set of government tools that we can use to anticipate and try to prevent and neutralize a threat before we get hit with it. That is diplomacy. We use diplomacy against a nation state that we think might be taking adverse action against us. We build up our military to serve as a deterrent. We have an intelligence community that goes and tries to find out the plans of our adversaries before they strike us. This is the set of tools that we use.
Ken Wainstein: The problem is those tools don’t necessarily work against a naturally occurring infectious disease. You can’t go diplomatically demarche an infection. You can’t deter an infection with your arsenal of weaponry or your large military. But rather what you have to do is you have to have an apparatus in place that anticipates where infectious diseases might come next. And also prepare for them. Develop the relationships with all the other players, international and national, who have to be involved in responding to an outbreak once an outbreak happens. And then have the things pre-positioned, whether it’s medical countermeasures or protective equipment, or just the governmental structures that need to be in place in order to respond effectively. Those are the tools that you need for a pandemic.
Lisa Monaco: We’ve known that emerging infectious disease can pose a significant threat. And I think amongst the many questions that are going to be asked is as a government, how are we organized to respond quickly and where were the gaps?
Ken Wainstein: So with all the questions out there, as night follows day, government is going to set up various ways of taking a look back to see what was done right and what was done wrong. And we’ve seen that in every crisis that we’ve gone through in the country. And we both lived through the aftermath of 9/11 when there was a joint inquiry up on Capitol Hill, which then evolved into a full blown 9/11 commission. Put out a very comprehensive report about the lead up to 9/11 where there, what was done well and what was done badly leading up to 9/11 by the intelligence community and the rest of the federal government. And then making a number of recommendations for how to be better positioned for that kind of threat in the future. I’m sure we’re going to see that kind of thing here. And I know there’s legislation being proposed right now to set up look back kind of commissions. What are you hearing on that front?
Lisa Monaco: Yeah no I think as you said, I think for sure we’re going to see some type of 9/11 style commission. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee has put forth legislation that would create a bipartisan commission that is both looking back and investigating kind of what happened as well as making recommendations for the future. So I think that legislation and some form of it will get debated. And when you look at the disruption and what we’re going through as a country, I would bet that we’re going to see some type of commission.
Lisa Monaco: And then the types of things that it’s going to look at, I think will run the gamut. Just like as you said, we looked back after 9/11 and said what did we miss? Why didn’t we connect the dots? And you saw new governmental structures like the Department of Homeland Security and other things get created to address those gaps. So I think we may see recommendations for new types of structures. I think there’s going to be an examination of what did the intelligence community know, what was it telling to policy makers. I think there’ll be lots of questions about why were the United States health care outcomes worse than other seemingly less sophisticated or less capable countries. There’ll be lots of examination about what happened with testing, and recommendations on that score I think.
Lisa Monaco: And I think there’ll be questions about should we have much more robust public health capacity? We’re all seeing now questions about how can we conduct contact tracing. By the way Ken, another phrase that nobody outside of public health and Homeland Security issues, nobody knew that term before the last of weeks. So I think there’s going to be a whole panoply of questions like that. And my own hope is that it also spawns a sense of national service, right?
Lisa Monaco: I mean, one of the great things if there was any silver lining at all out of the tragedy of 9/11, which silver lining is not the right word. But certainly there was this sense of, renewed sense of national service, right? We talk about the 9/11 generation, right? People who enlisted in the military, who went into the foreign service. Who wanted to serve in the intelligence and national security communities because of that tragedy. And maybe we’ll see a new public health corps and a new public health sense of service, and a new generation of leaders there.
Ken Wainstein: Yeah. You’ve seen some of the commentary recently. And of course we’re all trying desperately to find silver linings in this tragic situation. But one of the things that I read was somebody opining that there has been a resurgence of pro-social behavior and going back to sort of an older historical sense of communal responsibility. Where the whole takes a village idea that the village looks out for each other. And in this time of people being quarantined in their homes and people not having access to food and basics that other people are stepping up in a way they haven’t before. And just in terms of the recognition that you see the country giving the frontline service providers, there’s sort of a newfound or at least a revived sense of appreciation for serving each other. Which might be one of the things that would lead to that resurgence of public service that we saw after 9/11.
Ken Wainstein: But getting back to the idea of a commission. Look, I remember when the 9/11 commission came along and I was in was your predecessor as a general counsel, chief of staff of the FBI. And I remember thinking boy, we need to look [inaudible] here we are fighting over war against terrorists. We’re trying to revamp the intelligence community to make sure we can connect the dots in the future. We’re running 1,000 miles an hour, and now we have to deal with this commission that’s going to be spending time in our shorts, looking at everything we did for the last 10 years.
Ken Wainstein: But I’ll tell you, I was proved wrong by the end of it. Proved wrong in terms of the worth of the exercise and how valuable that was to actually force everybody to take a look back and sort of coldly reevaluate what we did and didn’t do. And I think the result of that look back and the changes that were recommended and adopted in the federal government particular, have made us safer. So I’m hopeful that that’s what we’re going to see.
Ken Wainstein: And look, whenever you hear about a condition like this, there are concerns raised that it’s going to end up being political in a way of just leveling criticism. But I think we’ve seen that they proved their worth over and over. And well put together. Well-staffed well-intentioned, it can end up really serving us well next time we face a pandemic.
Lisa Monaco: I think if they are focused on approaching this important issues in a bipartisan way, in a nonpartisan way hopefully, if there is such a thing anymore. And to really get to identifying and solving problems as opposed to taking shots. So that’s what I hope is the case.
Lisa Monaco: You mentioned reluctance and trepidation about the look back at 9/11. I remember that too. But I agree that there’s some obviously very good things that came out of it. And one of the great things that I think came out of it was a new kind of ethos in the national security and policy maker communities that everyone has to start off with the same information, right? I mean there was a whole question about did the intelligence community share with the law enforcement community in advance of 9/11, and how can we make sure everyone is looking and has the same intelligence about the threat that we face so that we can make sure we’re doing everything to stop it?
Lisa Monaco: And that spawned as you’ll recall Ken, a kind of revision to and renewed focus on something called the president’s daily brief, right? This is something that’s been around for a very, very long time, for decades. But has been revamped over time. And now it’s back in the news. Vis-a-vis the coronavirus. And we’ve got new reporting this week from the Washington post about how the president, President Trump was warned, I think some dozen times in January and February in the president’s daily brief about the coronavirus. And this was at a time when there were statements coming from the White House, kind of downplaying the threat. So we maybe should spend a minute on kind of what is this thing called the PDB. And is it important, is it a trusted source of information? How do policymakers use it? I mean, you got the PDB every morning as I did when we both served in the White House, right?
Ken Wainstein: Yeah. So got in the White House. Actually, we got it in our prior positions at the FBI and Main Justice. And look, the president’s daily brief goes back to I think soon after World War II. And it was designed as a mechanism for giving the president on a daily basis, a brief on the most immediate intelligence concerns and recent intelligence that has come in involving threats around the world. And that brief has evolved over time and every president tailors it to his own preferences. It was on paper up until President Obama, and President Obama got it on a tablet instead of on paper.
Lisa Monaco: Yeah. So did I. I got an iPad with a really cool leather cover that had the seal of the president embossed on it. It was great. And it had all of the articles. And we should talk about, obviously we can’t talk specifically but the articles because they’re all highly classified. But there would be kind of interactive things sometimes too, which really was a great way to convey a lot of information in a short period of time.
Ken Wainstein: You Obama folks had all the neat toys. We had just musty old papers back in the Bush administration. But it’s really an important piece of the intelligence structure. It’s what makes sure that the president has available to him the most current intelligence on threats. And the most recent reporting is that the PDB, as you said, had a number of references to the virus and the possibility that could become a pandemic back in January. And that some have questioned whether that reporting was consistent with the statements being made by the white house.
Ken Wainstein: Once again, just as we said that the look backs, look back commissions follow crises like day follows night. Same thing. Everybody, whenever there’s a crisis they look back at the PDB to see if there is any reference to the threat before the crisis took hold the country. Saw that happened in 9/11. In fact, there was a big issue about declassifying a PDB that was issued and read by the president, President Bush in August of 2001 about Al Qaeda.
Lisa Monaco: Yeah. It was very, I mean we should tell people that the thing that got so much attention at the time is that there was an article that said, and this ultimately was declassified as part of the 9/11 commission. Right? But it was a big kind of bone of contention because the PDB is highly classified. And ultimately an article that was entitled Bin Ladin Determined To Strike the United States was ultimately declassified. And it became clear that it had been part of the president’s daily brief. And it’s that kind of thing that is looked at in one of these commissions. And then will spawn a whole host of questions. If President Trump received a PDB article talking explicitly about the coronavirus’ lethality, how it was spreading, warning about political and economic consequences from a pandemic, that China was suppressing information. If all of that was in the PDB. And I don’t know, I haven’t seen it. But if that’s what the commission uncovers, it’s going to raise lots of questions about statements that were made at the time.
Ken Wainstein: Right, and then state questions about what was and was not done in response to those intelligence reports. Which then also will raise questions about how the PDB and the PDB process is handled by this president. As we said, every president has different preferences about the PDB document itself. But also every president has different ways of dealing with the intelligence community, and takes the PDB process at different levels of seriousness. Now I think both of our presidents were very focused on getting that intelligence. President Bush took his PDB briefing in person with the briefer six days a week and with the national security advisor, chief of staff, the vice president, etc., etc. I know President Obama was similarly serious about it. And I think there been questions about whether the intelligence briefing process has been as rigorous in this administration. So I think there’ll be questions about that as well, which I think are fair questions.
Lisa Monaco: We should tell people that, we talked about this comes in an iPad, it comes in paper. I actually used to sometimes get it in both forms because I used to like to mark up the paper. But the PDB itself refers to a series of articles that can be one to three pages of information about, as you said at the outset, the most pressing threats or intelligence that the intelligence community has formulated and analyzed over the prior 24, 48 hour period. It is put together by a career staff of professionals in the intelligence community who are literally working overnight to put this information together and get it into … it’s long been referred to as the most important newspaper in the world. And the first customer is the president, right, of that ‘newspaper.’
Lisa Monaco: And the PDB itself is a reference to the main articles that go to the president. And then the rest of the president’s national security team. So the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the national security advisor, the Homeland Security advisor and other members of the cabinet who have national security responsibilities, all see that same information. But at the same time, they also get other intelligence in their books, right? In their version of it. So the treasury secretary may get more economic intelligence.
Lisa Monaco: And I know I used to get more detailed information about terrorist threats, and cyber threats, and pandemic issues and global health security issues. Because those are the things I was focused on. And my first meeting of the day as I suspect yours was Ken, was with my briefer. An analyst part of the intelligence committee who was assigned to me to put together my book. And that person, the last thing they would do in their day was meet with me first thing in the morning. And then they would go home, because they were going to have to be back at work seven, 8:00 at night to work overnight to put together that intelligence for me and the president. And then I would start my day meeting with my briefer and then roll into my meeting with the president where we would go over the PDB that he had. You’re quite right. President Obama reviewed the PDB every morning. He would do it actually in the residence and then he would come down to the Oval Office and talk with us and the director of national intelligence about it.
Ken Wainstein: People need to recognize that the value of that process is it obviously informs both the president and then his top advisors of the most recent intelligence on the threats that we face advises their policy decision making. That’s the key. It’s what they use as the basis for their policy decision making.
Ken Wainstein: But there’s also another component of this, and we’ve seen this over and over. And this is a matter of leadership. The president in receiving that brief, in talking to the briefer, and we’ll have the FBI directors there giving a brief on terrorism as he did six days a week, President Bush. The president would be asking questions back. Those questions reverberate throughout the organization. So when the director of the FBI came back and asked the president, he said the president wanted to know whether we shared this information with the CIA or overseas counterparts. That question reverberated around and sent a message. And just going back to the 9/11 as an example, that was critical to get that message out to for the president to be reminding the intelligence community that we’re doing things in a new way, and that we’re building a new structure here. So it’s a two way street. That process of it works right, is both the way of reforming but also a way of reforming to meet evolving threats. And it’s absolutely critical.
Lisa Monaco: That is such an important point Ken, you’re so right. I mean the way that the PDB would get consumed and how that would drive questions and then responses really set the tone for the rest of the government in response to something. And I remember constantly when we would discuss an item in the PDB, President Obama would always say, “All right, what are we doing about it? What are the next steps?” So I think the question will come. Was this information about the coronavirus in the president’s daily brief? Did President Trump get it? Did he read it? Did he not read it? If he looked at it. And frankly, what about others in the national security apparatus? What did they do with that information? That’s the question. What steps did they take? So those are going to be the questions that will be coming for sure. When it comes to the intelligence and intelligence community, and policy makers. That’s going to be front and center when the inevitable commission gets underway.
Lisa Monaco: But I think the question will arise is what structure were they all working within and how should that be potentially reformed? I mean, there have been a few things bandied about Ken. I don’t what your take has been on some of those discussions.
Ken Wainstein: Well look, there’ve been a number of different proposals over the years about how better to structure the federal government, and let’s talk about federal government for now. To meet the bio threat, be it man made or naturally occurring. And I think speaking immodestly on our part, one of the best set of recommendations comes from the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense, which you and I happen to be members of.
Lisa Monaco: That’s right. Full disclosure.
Ken Wainstein: Full disclosure. So we’re going to pat ourselves on the back here. But it’s a wonderful group of I guess six of us shared by Joe Lieberman and Tom Ridge. And started in 2015, put a report out back in 2015 which laid out concerns about the government’s preparedness for the kind of thing we’re seeing now. And we’ve made a number of recommendations. And without getting into the details, the overall point that we made and then we’ve tried to reinforce that over time with further reports and studies. Is that like all threats, serious threats facing the government, the only way we’re going to be able to prepare for that threat and neutralize it before it really causes damage to our people or our country is by having sufficient leadership within the federal government.
Ken Wainstein: And one thing that we’ve seen is that the leadership that was responsible for dealing with the bio threat over the last couple of administrations has withered. For example, your position and my position in the white house, the Homeland Security advisor position no longer has the authority that it did before.
Lisa Monaco: It’s kind of been erased really when you think of it. It’s been downgraded and kind of effectively erased.
Ken Wainstein: Right. And we had a strong component of people who were thinking about this threat, even though there might not have been a particular threat on the immediate horizon. They’re constantly thinking about how best to structure the government, how best to coordinate with counterparts overseas and with our state level counterparts, and with public health entities to make sure that we’re well positioned when this kind of pandemic hits us.
Ken Wainstein: That structure and that leadership at the White House level, which is so critical to driving action within the federal government. You can’t drive action within the federal government on a critical issue unless you have the White House pushing that action. Because otherwise the parochialism of different departments and agencies will prevent things from getting done. You know, we had that. Was it perfect? Probably not, but at least it was there. And a question I think that’s going to be raised down the road is what kind of structure do we need? And I know Senator Romney and I think Murphy of posts and legislation creating an entity within the White House by statute that would force coordination for pandemic planning and response. So I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more along those lines.
Lisa Monaco: Yeah, I mean I think their legislation talks about in essence, reconstituting something that we put in place in the Obama administration after Ebola. So we set up a division within the national security council staff called the global health security and biodefense directorate led by career professionals, whose job it was to be thinking about this stuff 100% of their time every day. And in 2018, that unit got dismantled. So I think amongst the recommendations that you’re going to see and discussion that’s going to come about is reconstituting that. Reinstating hopefully I think this structure within the White House that can really prompt the government to work together in a whole of government response, and most importantly to work quickly. Because what we’ve seen is speed is, and time is of the essence in a public health emergency. And you need that to be generated and forced out of the White House.
Ken Wainstein: Right. And I think that’s one of the main points of the biodefense commission that we’re on. You’ve got to have well-oiled communication and coordination with people in the government responsible for every aspect of society that’s going to be impacted. And if you don’t have that already in place, and it’s never perfect. A crisis can never be perfectly predicted. You never know exactly how something’s going to play out. So it’s easy to second guess. That being said, pre-positioning, planning of the type that our military is so good at and has done for generations. That’s the kind of thinking that needs to go into preparing for pandemics.
Lisa Monaco: Yeah. And I should say Ken, and I know you feel this way. Look, any administration would be challenged by this. We should just put that out there, right? But there is value in having processes set up and having structures already set up. Because as you said, the problem is minimizing the chaos at the outset. I like to say the first casualty in a crisis is reason, right? You need to minimize that chaos at the front end. And you do that by having processes and structures that people are used to working within. So we’ll see. But it does come down to leadership.
Ken Wainstein: Yep. No question. So let’s broaden the lens a little bit. Let’s take a look at our role in the world, in the world order. You know, just looking back at recent histories or go back to World War II. and ever since World War II, we have been a leader in the world in really every respect. And we have seen it as an obligation of ours and also as an asset, a national asset of ours that we help the rest of the world respond to crises. We give a helping hand. We’re the ones that the rest of the world looks to for support. Starting with the Marshall Plan after World War II itself, we helped rebuild Europe after the devastation of the war. And that sort of set the tone for the next 75 years that the world looked to us for leadership and help.
Ken Wainstein: What do you see, and I’m going to specifically cite a tremendous article that you and Michèle Flournoy put out on the Politico back I think it was on April 8th of this year. What do you see about our future role in the world and what decisions that we’re going to be having to make about the role to play or not play in the aftermath of COVID-19?
Lisa Monaco: Well, it’s a very serious open question right now. And the data so far is not great. And so you, you mentioned this article that Michèle Flournoy and I wrote. I should say Michèle Flournoy, former under secretary of defense for policy. Tremendous, tremendous public servant and great thinker on these issues. So she and I wrote this piece in Politico. And the title, I’m not sure we came up with it. But the folks who write titles dubbed it Now’s Not the Time for Isolationism. And as frankly as headlines for op-eds go, actually pretty accurate. Our reaction thus far has been that unfortunately, the United States when it comes to the response to coronavirus has been absent, really. Has been kind of AWOL when it comes to galvanizing and international response. We talk about history here. President Bush launched a tremendous AIDS initiative called PEPFAR to put in lots of money to STEM that crisis in Africa.
Lisa Monaco: President Obama of course, galvanized international leadership to help several West African countries contain the spread of Ebola. And after the 2008 financial crisis, worked with world leaders to help developing economies not be crushed by that crisis. So I think the point is that U.S. leadership has been the galvanizing force for many, many years, for decades in fact for helping other countries deal with crises. And in so doing, helping us the United States deal with crises. So I think the bottom line right now is we have not been doing that when it comes to coronavirus. And we’ve chosen I think as a country to look only inward. And if we do that exclusively, we risk actually doing damage to our own security because frankly we’re only as secure as our weakest link internationally. And it’s in our interest to look at this as a global problem and help other countries deal with it. And that’s certainly true when it comes to global health security. So I think there is absolutely a role, an important role for the United States to play when it comes to combating the coronavirus. And if we don’t do it, other countries will step in and step up. And that’s not in our interest either.
Ken Wainstein: Yeah. I think your point about leadership is so spot on. You mentioned PEPFAR and the Obama administration and the Ebola crisis. So you can think of countless examples. But I remember one, which was the end of the Bush administration. I was the Homeland Security advisor, and this is as we were going through the financial crisis. And I was just a fly on the wall when it came to the discussions at morning meetings and otherwise with the president about how to deal with the financial crisis because that was not in my remit at all, thankfully. But one of the things that he made clear was that this was a time that American leadership needed to show through. And taking bold action, being honest about the stakes of the situation, about the dimensions of the problem and the need for strong measures. That that was so important as a matter of leadership, and the perception of leadership and integrity leadership.
Ken Wainstein: Really an important lesson just that I learned just by watching how that was handled. You can question whether it was handled right or wrong, but at least that message I thought was so important.
Ken Wainstein: And look, I think we’re seeing issues to your point about other countries maybe stepping into the void. We didn’t get the G7 together. I think the French were the ones who sort of stepped in there. We’ve not reached out to our foreign partners. And when we don’t do that, the Chinese for instance, see a great opportunity and they’re seizing it. I mean, we saw that as soon as the president cut off the funding to the WHO. I think it was the very next day, the Chinese upped their contribution or sent a check in the WHO. Making very clear their point that if the U.S. isn’t going to support international efforts, they are. And so therefore, loyalty from other countries should be directed to them and not the United States.
Lisa Monaco: No, that’s right. I mean, having other countries step into our leadership void. On the one hand, I think some would say well fine, let other people do it. Let other people pay for it. Why should we, the United States worry about it? And I get that. That’s one reaction. I think the other reaction is that if other countries are filling that void, our influence is diminished. In addition to the view that countries have had of us for years of being the galvanizer, the leader, the one who can be relied upon. Right? And I think that sense of reliability has been shaken. I mean when China is providing masks and PPE, another phrase by the way, Ken, that nobody knew couple of months ago. If China is providing support to our NATO allies as they have done in providing much needed equipment to Italy. And we, the United States are not, what does that say to our allies?
Lisa Monaco: And in addition, it’s a way for frankly the Chinese to erase some of the bad PR that they’re getting. Right? So we talked earlier about China not being transparent and not sharing information with the rest of the world. Suppressing information, not being reliable when it to the early onset of the coronavirus. Well, I think they’re trying to engage in a little bit of public health diplomacy here and doing a PR campaign to try and erase those bad facts. So that’s an opportunity that we give them if we step out of the leadership role. And you mentioned the G7. It wasn’t that it didn’t get convenient. It was that the French convened it, not us. And when it comes to the G20, it was the Saudis who said, “Hey, let’s have a virtual meeting,” and it wasn’t the United States. And it really raises questions about whether or not I think amongst our allies, that we can be relied upon in crisis going forward. And I frankly think that’s dangerous for our place in the world. I think there’s lots to be on the lookout for, for what does all this mean for the United States’ role in the world. That may seem like a very far off concept and a distant world. Will there be a world post COVID where we’re having these types of foreign policy discussions about our role in the world?
Lisa Monaco: But slightly nearer in focus I think should be some of the other issues that are starting to get discussed about surveillance. Right? We’re hearing the term surveillance can be used in ways that is very different than from our former lives when we talked about terrorism. Surveillance has real meaning in the public health context as well. Right?
Ken Wainstein: Yeah. It’s funny. Surveillance of course in our national security nerd perspective relates to foreign intelligence.
Lisa Monaco: Speak for yourself.
Ken Wainstein: I admit to it. It refers to electronic surveillance of terrorists and spies, and that kind of thing. And of course there’s the broader surveillance state with cameras on every corner of this kind of thing.
Ken Wainstein: And what we saw after 9/11. Once again, seeing the parallels between the crisis we’re dealing with now and the crisis we went through back in 2001. After 9/11, we got enhanced authority by statute to conduct surveillances so that we could connect the dots and prevent the next 9/11. And I think one of the important things to note is that those surveillance powers didn’t just temporarily ramp up and then ramp back down once the threat of a follow on 9/11 attack subsided. But rather they became established, and they continued going forward.
Ken Wainstein: So one of the questions is going to be well that surveillance approach to public health to finding out who is and isn’t infected, who can and cannot go to certain public places based on their health COVID-19 status. Is that something that will be established here in the United States as it has been in China? Which of course is an authoritarian government, doesn’t concern itself with privacy and civil liberties. And then if it is established, is it something that will be temporary or is it something that’s going to become sort of a part of daily life going forward?
Lisa Monaco: I think that again, the parallel to 9/11 is important and useful. Because of course there was a lot of controversy around those new authorities and frankly the institutionalization of those authorities. We’re still having debates about those authorities and whether they should continue. And I think that’s exactly what people are worried about now as the conversation develops around what technological tools should we be relying on and developing to help public health officials understand the spread, intensity, and kind of traceability of the virus as we’re trying to get people back to work. Right? So everyone, I think most people agree that we need to understand the spread of the virus and where there is or is likely to be resurgent hotspots as we try and open up and send people back to work. So understanding who has it or who has had it in determining who can go back to work is going to be a big job.
Lisa Monaco: Part of that is contact tracers. These are literally people who go out and talk to others about their contacts and try and understand how far the virus has spread. And that’s of course incredibly labor intensive and is an important part of the public health toolkit. But are there ways that technology. GPS, Bluetooth, you name it. As we all have ubiquitous phones in our pockets. Can that be leveraged to help public health authorities understand where the spread of the disease is?
Lisa Monaco: What I found really interesting just even over the last few weeks is there’s evidence that some of the public attitudes around these issues have been shifting. That there may be at least a temporary willingness of people to kind of hand over more information if it’s going to help public health authorities understand the spread of the disease and if it’s going to help people get back to work. But I think there’s lots of open questions. How is that information going to be collected? What’s going to be done with it? How’s it going to be retained? How’s it going to be used? How, if at all, is it going to be shared? These are all the questions, frankly the parallel issues that we dealt with in our former roles dealing with other threats, that are now coming back to the fore when it comes to the coronavirus.
Ken Wainstein: Health information has always been seen as perceived both by statute and sort of by tradition as being highly protected and highly private.
Lisa Monaco: Appropriately so, right?
Ken Wainstein: Yeah, for all the right reasons. But that understanding, that presumption is running headlong into the need to reopen the economy. And the question as to whether there needs to be knowledge of a person’s health status before that person is allowed let’s say into a movie theater, into a restaurant. So you’ve got the Chinese have apparently established basically a color coding system. And they use their iPhones as the mechanism for this. And if you have the right color code based on your health status, coronavirus health status, you can leave your house. If you don’t, you leave your house, you could be arrested. If you go to a restaurant, you have to have the right status to get in. That’s something that’s just seen as sort of anathema to our understanding of health privacy. But at the same time, I think people are now recognizing, to your point about the shift in opinion. Are recognizing that maybe some version of that might be necessary in order to open those restaurants in the first place. Because last thing we want to do is protect privacy to the extent that we actually accelerate the infection rate.
Lisa Monaco: Yeah. And what are going to be the oversight mechanisms around the use of this technology and the sharing and housing of that information. Again, I think a lot more fodder for the commission that we were talking about.
Ken Wainstein: Yes. And a lot more law review articles and topics for podcasters like you and me to discuss.
Lisa Monaco: Yeah, exactly right. Never ending, never ending. You know, the other thing I think that if we’re on the topic of parallels here. The question of what use may terrorists make of something like the coronavirus. That’s been bandied about by some of our colleagues as well.
Ken Wainstein: Yeah. Look, I think that the fact of this worldwide crisis is something that’s only going to be to the advantage of terrorists, both foreign terrorists and potential domestic terrorists. I think look, there’s a sort of standard historical formula for terrorists. Terrorism I should say. When there’s chaos in an area, when governments falter in an area, when there’s dissatisfaction with government, those are the conditions in which terrorism flourishes. And in governments around the world, or in countries around the world where the governments have not stepped up to deal with the crisis effectively, I think that’s only going to put wind in the sails of terrorist groups in those areas.
Ken Wainstein: It’s also a concern here within our government, within our country. There’s I think a level of dissatisfaction with government’s response to this crisis as there always is. No government can perfectly respond to any crisis. But I think that plus the reaction on the part of some to the measures that the government has put in place. Restricting movement, keeping people at home, leading to these other protests you’ve seen. And then add to that a nationalist reaction on the part of some to the fact that this disease apparently came from Asia and is sort of a we them kind of attitude. You put all those into the mix, and I think you’ve got maybe a greater tendency for people here in the U.S. to maybe radicalized towards the domestic terrorism, or the type that you and I have talked about and written about and the need to focus our resources here in the U.S. on preventing that kind of radicalization. So I think both on the international front, the domestic front, the fact that this epidemic is helpful for terrorism and a challenge to the government.
Lisa Monaco: You and I both led the National Security Division right? In the justice department, whose job it was to prosecute cases. I saw that the Justice Department and the attorney general basically put out a directive or a memo to prosecutors around the country looking at whether coronavirus could be viewed as a biological agent for use by terrorists. Putting on your old hat Ken, if you had one of your prosecutors in the national security division come to you and say, “Should we be prosecuting folks for coughing on the subway as acts of domestic terrorism?” What would you say to them?
Ken Wainstein: Right. And I don’t think that was, I’d say go get a real case with real mens rea and real criminal intent.
Lisa Monaco: There you go tossing that Latin around.
Ken Wainstein: So I don’t think that’s what the DOJ memo was about. I think the DOJ memo was designed to make sure that if people decide they want to do something nefarious with the infection, that the federal government appropriately comes down hard on them. And if somebody decides that they want to go intentionally infect somebody or claims not to be sick and then intentionally goes in to infect a group of people, that’s the kind of thing that criminal laws might well be designed for.
Ken Wainstein: Now whether you want to say this is a terrorism case involving a weapon of mass destruction, that might seem like overkill in terms of the terminology. But the idea that people should be criminally responsible if they try to infect other human beings knowingly, intentionally. That I think is, that would be a righteous prosecution.
Lisa Monaco: Oh, absolutely. Look, we shouldn’t pull our punches on people committing acts of violence and using new means to do it. But the one thing I’d be on the lookout for is, it goes back to what we were saying previously Ken. Let’s not only look at these issues through the lens of nefarious introduction. If we don’t treat emerging infectious disease and the problems of pandemics as a national security issue writ broad, I think we’re going to continue to be kind of behind the eight ball when it comes to preparedness and response. I think one of the things that we’ve seen here is as a country, we haven’t treated pandemic preparedness sufficiently as a national security issue and mounting a whole of government response. And part of that sure, may involve using law enforcement tools. But we’ve got to think about prioritizing these issues across the board.
Ken Wainstein: Amen. So I guess the last thing, if you could just give us a quick answer here. This should just take a couple seconds. But where’s the North Korean leader? Remember back in 2014, I think he disappeared from view for a while and people were speculating that he was dead or incapacitated, and then he came roaring back. So hard to know whether he’s incapacitated or worse.
Lisa Monaco: Although it sounds like President Trump said the other day that he seemed to indicate he knows where he is.
President Trump: I can tell you exactly. Yes, I do have a very good idea, but I can’t talk about it now. I just wish him well.
Lisa Monaco: So maybe he got that in a love letter.
Ken Wainstein: Possibly so. So I look forward to when he shares the contents of that love letter. But I guess then the question is, let’s just say he is incapacitated or dead. In terms of where it goes from there, the succession continues within that family, which traces itself back to the mythical beginnings of the Korean people. There’s the lineage that would presumably follow. It would go to his half brother, except that Kim Jong-Un had his half brother assassinated a couple of years ago. So that ain’t going to happen. And then I guess there’s an uncle, it doesn’t look like he’s sort of roaring for the job. But his younger sister, who I think is only 31, has been more prominent recently putting out statements in our own name. And that sort of fueled speculation that if conjunction exits left from the scene that maybe she would step up. Despite the fact that she has one handicap for the pedigree that’s looked for a ruler over there, which is that she’s a woman.
Lisa Monaco: Yeah, exactly. But she has been the propaganda minister, so she’d be quite well suited to the job I guess based on prior leadership. But to be serious about it, you’re right. A lot of the watchers, the North Korean watchers on this think that she could well be the successor to Kim Jong-Un because there’s no real heir apparent. There’s no male heir apparent. So be quite ironic if North Korea had a woman leader before the United States.
Ken Wainstein: Yes. Because the watchers all say that that would be a huge departure from history and cultural norms. So then back to the last point you made, which I think is so important for us. What are the stakes here? And if there is a change in leadership, which could result in some instability. Let’s say that she doesn’t just ease in there and take over and get the loyalty of the military and the rest of the country. And then there’s some instability.
Ken Wainstein: Right on the Southern border of China provides China the buffer zone between it and South Korea, our ally and our forces in South Korea. So you’ve got the Chinese will be jumping in, seeing a strong national interest and making sure that we don’t in any way exploit the instability to inject our influence in North Korea. And you’ve got that dynamic plus as you pointed out, nuclear weapons. So it’s sort of back to the situation we had after the fall of the Soviet Union. Of course they have many more weapons, but same concern. And can we rely on the Chinese to work with us to make sure that those nuclear weapons don’t fall in the wrong hands?
Lisa Monaco: No, that’s right. And we joke about the succession here, but it is no laughing matter that we’ve got tens of thousands of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. And we’re talking about a pretty small geographic dimension here. Our troops in South Korea are just 30 or 40 miles from artillery positions in North Korea. So this is very high stakes stuff.
Ken Wainstein: Yeah. So it’s going to be hard to navigate this if there is a transition of power and if there’s any instability. And I think aside from the nuclear threat and the concern about a face off of the Chinese, our influence in Asia is going to be measured by how well we handle that crisis. Because the Chinese as we pointed out earlier in our discussion here, are making inroads throughout the world, but particularly in South Asia and in Asia where they’re courting various governments and providing resources. And you could see that those countries are going to be watching how well we stand beside our ally South Korea. How forcefully we deal with any unreasonable efforts or aggressive efforts by China vis-a-vis North Korea. So it’s going to be a tough thing to navigate with longterm consequences to our standing in that part of the world.
Lisa Monaco: Well definitely space to watch even as we try and keep track of the developments on coronavirus and all else that’s going on. So I’m looking forward to continuing these conversations with you, Ken. Hopefully a lot more often, because God knows there’s plenty to try and make sense of each week. And you and I are going to do our best to do that. So until next time.
Ken Wainstein: Okay. And stay safe, and stay safe to all the listeners out there. And any questions and comments, send them to [email protected] And keep safe, and all the best to you and your families.
Preet Bharara: As usual, Lisa and Ken had so many topics to get through. Their conversation continues for members of CAFE Insider. If you’d like to hear it, become a member and get access to all CAFE insider content for free for two weeks. Insiders get the flagship Weekly Insider podcast co-hosted by Anne Milgram and me, and exclusive newsletter, bonus stay tuned content, and more. So head to cafe.com/insider and try out the membership free for two weeks. That’s cafe.com/insider.