• Transcript
  • Show Notes

On this episode of the United Security podcast, Lisa Monaco and Ken Wainstein break down the recent announcement by top intelligence officials that Russia and Iran have obtained American voter registration data. They also discuss DNI John Ratcliffe’s selective declassification of intelligence, and the sweeping indictment against six Russian intelligence officers in connection with some of the world’s most high-profile cyberattacks. 

References and Supplemental Materials: cafe.com/united-security/united-security-10-30

The United Security podcast is produced by CAFE Studios. 

Executive Producer – Tamara Sepper; Senior Editorial Producer – Adam Waller; Audio Producer – Nat Weiner; Editorial Producers – Sam Ozer-Staton and David Kurlander

REFERENCES & SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS

MILES TAYLOR: 

  • Michael D. Shear, “Miles Taylor, a Former Homeland Security Official, Reveals He Was ‘Anonymous,’” New York Times, 10/28/2020
  • Anonymous, “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” New York Times, 9/5/2018
  • Paul Farhi and Sarah Ellison, “The New York Times called ‘Anonymous’ op-ed author Miles Taylor a Trump ‘senior official.’ Was that accurate?” Washington Post, 10/28/2020

ELECTION UPDATE:

  • Julian Barnes and David Sanger, “Iran and Russia Seek to Influence Election in Final Days, U.S. Officials Warn,” New York Times, 10/21/2020
  • “DNI John Ratcliffe’s Remarks at Press Conference on Election Security,” ODNI.gov, 10/22/2020
  • “FBI Director Christopher Wray’s Remarks at Press Conference on Election Security,” FBI.gov, 10/22/2020
  • Rachel Maddow, “DNI Ratcliffe message in classified briefing different from public remarks: Schumer,” MSNBC, 10/21/2020
  • Alan Cowell and Dexter Filkins, “Terror Plot Foiled; Airports Quickly Clamp Down,” New York Times, 10/11/2006
  • Julian Barnes, Nicole Perlroth, and David Sanger, “Russia Poses Greater Election Threat Than Iran, Many U.S. Officials Say,” New York Times, 10/22/2020
  • “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,” DNI.gov, 1/6/2017

NATIONAL SECURITY TEAM:

  • Jonathan Swan, “Scoop: Trump’s post-election execution list,” Axios, 10/25/2020
  • Ari Shapiro, “Timeline: Behind the Firing of Eight U.S. Attorneys,” NPR, 4/15/2007
  • “Investigator to probe U.S. attorney firings,” NBC News, 9/28/2008

CIVIL SERVICE EXECUTIVE ORDER:

  • “Executive Order on Creating Schedule F In The Excepted Service,” Whitehouse.gov, 10/21/2020
  • Erich Wagner, “‘Stunning’ Executive Order Would Politicize Civil Service,” Government Executive, 10/22/2020
  • Paul Farhi, “Trump appointee sweeps aside rule that ensured ‘firewall’ at Voice of America,” Washington Post, 10/27/2020

JOHN RATCLIFFE:

  • Julian Barnes, Adam Goldman, Nicholas Fandos, “Top Intelligence Official Releases Unverified, Previously Rejected Russia Information,” New York Times, 9/29/2020
  • DNI Ratcliffe letter to Judiciary Chairman Sen. Graham, 9/29/2020
  • Brian Greer, “John Ratcliffe’s Dangerous Declassification Game,” Lawfare, 10/7/2020

JOHN ASHCROFT:

  • Eric Lichtblau, “Ashcroft Mocks Librarians and Others Who Oppose Parts of Counterterrorism Law,” New York Times, 9/16/2003
  • Eric Lichtblau, “Ashcroft Relents on Data,” New York Times, 9/18/2003
  • “ACLU files lawsuit against Patriot Act,” CNN, 7/30/2003
  • Scott F. Mann, “Fact Sheet: Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act,” CSIS, 2/27/2014
  • Editorial Board, “Fishing in the Card Catalogs,” New York Times, 6/21/2005 

GRU INDICTMENT:

  • Six Russian GRU Officers Charged in Connection with Worldwide Deployment of Destructive Malware and Other Disruptive Actions in Cyberspace, DOJ.gov, 10/19/2020
  • “Remarks By Assistant Attorney General For National Security John C. Demers On Announcement of Charges Against Russian Military Intelligence Officers,” Justice.gov, 10/19/2020
  • Samantha Fry and Samuel Rebo, “Summary: Justice Department Charges Six Russian GRU Officers,” Lawfare, 10/20/2020
  • Dustin Volz, “U.S. Charges Six Russian Intelligence Officers With Hacking,” Wall Street Journal, 10/20/2020
  • Kim Zetter, “Inside the Cunning, Unprecedented Hack of Ukraine’s Power Grid,” WIRED, 3/3/2016
  • Ellen Nakashima, “Russian military was behind ‘NotPetya’ cyberattack in Ukraine, CIA concludes,” Washington Post, 1/12/2018
  • Tariq Panya, “After Doping Scandal, Russia Hacked the Olympics, U.S. and Britain Say,” New York Times, 10/22/2020
  • Anton Troianovski and David E. Sanger, “Putin Wants a Truce in Cyberspace — While Denying Russian Interference,” New York Times, 9/25/2020
  • Jack Goldsmith, “The Puzzle of the GRU Indictment,” Lawfare, 10/21/2020
  • “U.S. Charges Five Chinese Military Hackers for Cyber Espionage Against U.S. Corporations and a Labor Organization for Commercial Advantage,” DOJ.gov, 5/19/2014
  • Matt Spetalnick and Michael Martina, “Obama announces ‘understanding’ with China’s Xi on cyber theft but remains wary,” Reuters, 9/25/2015 

1984 OLYMPICS 

UNSUNG HERO: THE AMERICAN VOTER

  • Giovanni Russonello, “A Week Before Election Day, More Than Half the 2016 Vote Is Already In,” New York Times, 10/28/2020
  • IWillVote.com

Lisa Monaco:

From CAFE, this is United Security. I’m Lisa Monaco.

Ken Wainstein:

And I’m Ken Wainstein.

Lisa Monaco:

Good morning, Ken Wainstein. How you doing?

Ken Wainstein:

Good morning, Lisa. Doing great. How about you?

Lisa Monaco:

I’m doing pretty well.

Ken Wainstein:

And I will say life is a little bit emptier for me.

Lisa Monaco:

Why is that?

Ken Wainstein:

Because I love mysteries.

Lisa Monaco:

Oh, really.

Ken Wainstein:

And I love DC Mysteries. I love the intrigue and now there’s a little less mystery in the world.

Lisa Monaco:

I think that may count as an overshare on your part, Ken.

Ken Wainstein:

This is the mystery of who is anonymous.

Lisa Monaco:

Yeah. Anonymous is no longer anonymous. So breaking news this morning, right? Last night, Myles Taylor, the former chief of staff of the Department of Homeland Security disclosed himself as the anonymous author, the author formerly known as anonymous of the op-ed in New York Times. Some two years ago, exposing disfunction in the White House and a whole litany of Trump outrages and so now it’s been revealed.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. And so he started out doing this anonymously, whatever two years ago, and now he’s come out and saying he’s anonymous. But before saying that, he came out very prominently about a month or two ago, describing in some detail, the dysfunction that he saw as a former DHS official. And now he’s quite a presence in the media and I think he’s really getting under the president’s skin

Lisa Monaco:

Clearly the tweets are coming fast and furious when it comes to accusing him, I guess of treason and other things. So, I’m sure we’re going to hear more from the author formerly known as anonymous Miles Taylor, but I don’t know what your reaction was, but you know, to him, both offering his op-ed and then later a book anonymously and the New York Times printing it anonymously and calling him a senior administration official, I’ve seen a bunch of commentary that people think that a chief of staff at a cabinet agency doesn’t count as a senior administration official. So it’s now spawning a whole new, other set of controversies.

Ken Wainstein:

Sure, and whenever somebody comes out like that, whether anonymously or overtly, there are a lot of questions thrown back at him or her about their motives, their agenda, whether they actually know what they purport to know, whether they were central to the decisions and the policies and the issues that they’re speaking about. So yeah, he’s getting all those questions now. On the senior government administration official question, we were both chiefs of staff for the FBI and one thing that, that position affords somebody is access and availability to the decision-making, because if you’re doing the job as a sort of fully functioning chief of staff to a principal, you are seeing most of what that principal sees.

Ken Wainstein:

And so it puts you position to really be part of, or at least a witness to a lot of the internal administration deliberations that involve your principals. So, or maybe as a matter of definition or on the org chart, chief of staff to a cabinet secretary isn’t necessarily a “senior administration official.” In terms of access, it does afford per person to access sort of roughly equivalent to what a lot of senior administration officials would have.

Lisa Monaco:

I think that’s exactly right. I mean, no doubt as a chief of staff, he’s going to be in a lot of those rooms where these discussions are taking place. So I think the disputes and the critiques about whether he is afforded the label senior administration official might be much to do, about not much, but more to come from Miles Taylor, no doubt we should get into, the other issues for this week. Ken, since we last talked, we’ve had the final presidential debate about five days out as we have this discussion, Ken from the election. I don’t know about you, but I am just exhausted in with pre-election news anxieties controversies, and can’t get here soon enough so that we can all get to the other side at least of election night, but we also had some big news right before that last presidential debate last week.

Lisa Monaco:

We’ve now had the first public announcement that Russia and Iran are trying to interfere in the election by obtaining voter registration data and sending spoofed emails to voters. I should say the first public announcement in this election cycle about activities of Russia and Iran, first public announcement by government officials. And that came of course, in this kind of unusual press conference held by rather, the director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe and FBI Director, Chris Ray.

John Ratcliffe:

First, we have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran and separately by Russia. This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion. So chaos and undermine your confidence in American democracy. To that end, we have already seen Iran sending spoofed emails, designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage President Trump. You may have seen some reporting on this in the last 24 hours, or you may have even been one of the recipients of those emails.

Lisa Monaco:

What did you make of that pretty unusual press conference? It was called in a very hurry up fashion on the evening right before the presidential debate.

Ken Wainstein:

I think what was interesting about this announcement is the focus on Iran and Russia and the discussion about how Iran is the one that’s been caught with it’s hand in the cookie jar, doing these spoofed emails, no indication that Iran or Russia or anybody else has done anything to affect voter registration roles, or will be able to affect vote tallies or anything that sort of fundamentally handicaps the voting process. But it’s concerning that this is part of maybe a longer-term disinformation play to get spoofed emails out to disorient confuse the American voters and thereby undermine the effectiveness and confidence in the election.

Ken Wainstein:

But it has spawned as everything does that emanates from DC, it’s spawned a political debate. And that political debate is whether the purpose of this sort of hurried up announcement was to sensitize the American people and disclose details about the threat against us. In other words, sort of legitimate national security objectives, or was it political? Was it to be able to say that Iran was found engaged in this activity and Iran, the intelligence community has assessed is opposing Donald Trump because of course his decision as to the nuclear agreement and his policy generally against Iran, that the assessment is Iran sees its fate being better if Donald Trump is not in the office.

Ken Wainstein:

And so the question is whether that was welcome news politically to those on the Donald Trump side of the election, who want to show that this isn’t just a matter of the election interference. This isn’t just a matter of Russia trying to weigh in support of Trump, but in fact, they’ve got Iran out there trying to defeat Trump.

Lisa Monaco:

You know, just stepping back a minute though, there was a lot of focus about how this press conference came about when it was called in this hurry up fashion, it had kind of a breathless character to it. You and I both have spent time in that FBI conference room where the press conference was held and it isn’t used all that often for those types of real time live press conferences.

Ken Wainstein:

Oh, definitely wasn’t used much with Bob Mueller who was alluding to the press.

Lisa Monaco:

That is very true. It’s pretty rare. And it was called in a very hurry up fashion, early in the evening. The press was given very little notice. Normally when government officials call a press conference, something gets sent out 24 hours before saying there will be a press conference at 2:00 PM to make a law enforcement announcement. And that’s as much as gets said, but there’s plenty of notice that goes to the press.

Lisa Monaco:

This was unusual in that the press got very little notice, they were told to assemble. And usually when that kind of thing happens, it’s because I can think of instances during my tenure as chief of staff at the FBI where a press conference might be called in a hurry up fashion, because a plot has just been disrupted or an unusual arrest has just been made and it’s kind of responding to real time live events.

Lisa Monaco:

I remember in 2006, when the so-called planes plot was disrupted, remember this is the terrorism plot that where individuals were arrested in the UK and Great Britain for plotting to put bombs on planes, headed to the United States. It’s the disruption and the plot that brought us the no liquids on planes policy. And that was a very hurry up rapidly called press conference to let people know that this plot had just been disrupted.

Lisa Monaco:

So that’s the kind of thing where these very hurry up press conferences by the FBI are called. And so this had that type of feel to it. So I think it got people quite excited and it of course was not a terrorist plot disruption, but a discussion about a cyber threat and disinformation campaign on the election. So it really was quite an unusual circumstance to have this type of press conference. In terms of who was there, Ken I know other people, I saw some commentary people focusing on, well, why was the director of national intelligence there with Chris Ray? And it was at the FBI and what does that all mean? What kind of tea leaves should we be reading into that?

Lisa Monaco:

My own reaction was that in and of itself, isn’t strange, right? You want to have the director of national intelligence is supposed to represent the intelligence community as a whole. The job of the DNI is to integrate all the various expertise of the intelligence community into a community assessment about particular threats or a particular intelligence issue. And so him standing there with Chris Ray to talk about this conclusion about, or this ongoing issue by Iran and Russia into the election, that I think made good sense. Now, when it comes to the substance, there’s been a lot of controversy now spilling out about just how he characterized, the nature of this story.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. When you look at the timing and the way this was rolled out in such a hurried fashion, the day before the presidential debate, I mean, you have to draw the inference that it was done in order to provide ammunition for the president in his debate, and to frame the issue in a way that’s beneficial to the president before going into the debate. And it is interesting that the DNI Ratcliffe was there. This wasn’t just the head of the agency that was centrally involved in the investigation, but the head of the DNI announcing this and that’s sort of consistent with the role he’s played over the last couple of months in putting out information, that’s clearly designed to be helpful to the administration.

Ken Wainstein:

So I think that’s the inference to be drawn from the fact that this press conference, the way it was set up, late in the day. And I think one can say in terms of the way they framed the threat from Iran in a way that, is sort of seemingly on a par with Russia, the threat from Russia, when in fact in broad terms, the threat from Russia of course is much more serious.

Lisa Monaco:

Well, I was just going to say that… I mean, look, I think in its best light, you can say, look, it’s a good thing that the intelligence officials kind of called out this activity, the Russian and Iranian activity. I think what was disconcerting about in particular, how Ratcliffe characterize Iran’s actions. Of course he said in the press conference that Iran’s actions were meant to “damage president Trump” but the congressional officials and Democrats, including Senator Schumer and other Democrats push back on that characterization, they of course get briefed on these types of intelligence assessments. And they took issue with Ratcliffe’s characterization.

John Ratcliffe:

This section I do not believe was aimed for my surmise, was aimed at discrediting president Trump. I heard that the DNI said that it was rather done to undermine confidence in our elections aimed at Democrats Republicans, Independents.

Lisa Monaco:

On the one hand it could win the intelligence officials are bringing forward in kind of real time threats that they’re seeing. I think that makes good sense. You want to alert the public, particularly as they’re going to the polls, that they may be seeing things in their inboxes and on social media that they should be to cast a very critical eye about, but then that whole effort is completely undercut. If you have a partisan disagreement about the nature of that threat and that’s exactly what we shouldn’t be having. So the takeaway for me was it’s yet another example of why intelligence officials need to really keep their distance from the political back and forth and the political waters in the run-up to an election.

Ken Wainstein:

I think this is reminiscent of the same debate that we’ve gone through about the assessment in 2016 of Russia’s efforts to interfere with our election in 2016, when it was clearly done to sow discord clues done to sow confusion. But then the question was, was it also done to damage Hillary Clinton and to help Donald Trump? And there’s been endless debate about that. And when I say that I’m talking about that intelligence assessment. I think you can see the parallels here with the assessment involving Iran. You know, clearly Iran would have a strong interest in getting rid of Donald Trump. He has not done much to the benefit of Iran in the last four years. He’s been quite hard on Iran. So I think it stands to reason that an intelligence analyst would think that Iran might want to get rid of Donald Trump and hope for better relations with the new President Biden.

Ken Wainstein:

But then the question is, okay, what was the actual motivation here was the motivation to sow discord. Clearly it was, they were sending confusing emails out to voters or was it also to try to damage Donald Trump? And so it’s that question. A second question that is open to debate, and as you point out is one that has to be handled so carefully because it’s so politically fraught. And if you don’t carefully lay out the analysis and the reasoning for the analysis in a way that people understand you’re basing that analysis on objective facts, then people are going to conclude that you’re actually basing that analysis on political preferences. And that’s particularly the case if it’s publicly announced by somebody like the DNI who is seen as being more political than your average DNI.

Lisa Monaco:

Your point about assessments and how the intelligence community comes at this raises my mind. Another story that we’ve seen this week, which is the reporting that even as you say, Ratcliffe is making these statements about Iran motives, the intelligence community continues to assess that Russia is still the biggest foreign threat to our election. We talk about these rankings and who’s the biggest baddest threat. And who’s a little bit lesser and how do these things rack and stack. Why do you think it’s so important that we have that type of clear assessment of who’s at the top, who is lesser in the rankings, because we do spend a lot of time on these discussions and the intelligence community spends a lot of time on it. And I think it’s important for people to understand why those types of degrees of threat are important to take into account.

Ken Wainstein:

Right. And as is clear from our discussion here, there’s a political dimension to that where some people find they can get political traction. If the narrative is that Russia is the biggest threat and others could feel they could get political traction if Iran is perceived as the main threat to the election. But it actually has real practical implications within the intelligence community. There is a process to process that really sort of pervades throughout the ranks of every intelligence agency, whereby they’re constantly assessing the threat from different countries, from different groups, terrorist groups in the light and ranking them.

Ken Wainstein:

And that ranking has real implications. It has implications in terms of the amount of analytical focus on that threat. So in terms of nation state threats, North Korea is going to get a lot more analytical attention than France because of the threat that it poses to us. Same thing with terrorist groups, the FARC is not getting the same analytical attention as ISIS is getting right now. Same thing with resources, the amount of resources devoted to each threat is determined by that ranking, even down to sort of very practical things like when you apply for FISA Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act orders from the FISA Court, there’s a big backlog and that backlog the prioritization of the FISA applications in that backlog is determined by the threat that each FISA application addresses. So an ISIS application is going to get quicker attention than a FARC application at this point. And so it’s really has real life implications in the intelligence community, not just political value.

Lisa Monaco:

I think that’s right. And it’s also important for another reason, which is to say, it can influence how we deal with counterparts in those countries, right? So if the intelligence community assesses that Russia poses the greatest threat to the election and has a number of efforts underway, and that those are government directed, it ought to influence how we interact with them. And we’ve seen this over the past, right? The reporting that we’ve seen in the intelligence community is concerned about sending information down to the White House about Russian efforts to interfere in the election for fear that either, we can surmise for fear that Trump will react badly and angrily to that or that in some discussion with Putin or as he did reportedly in the Oval Office a couple of years ago with the ambassador from Russia will disclose more than he should about what our intelligence community is seeing.

Lisa Monaco:

So, you know, it, it really does matter in terms of how we handle that information and how we engage with counterparts from countries that we believe pose or threaten our undergoing or undertaking certain activities.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. Interesting issues that we’ll have to keep our eye on. Another thing that’s been in the news recently is talk about the fate of several of the higher level appointees in the national security apparatus. A lot of talk about the president, thinking about firing Chris Ray, the director of the FBI, Gina Haskell director of the CIA, and then Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. The suggestion is that the president is upset at each of them for different reasons, upset at Chris Ray for a number of things, including the fact that he testified that the FBI had seen no substantial evidence of voter fraud, which of course is something that the president has been touting as a real danger in this election when there is no such evidence.

Ken Wainstein:

Gina Haskell has gotten into his cross hairs because she has resisted declassification of information about sense of sources and methods when the president has wanted to declassify information that he thinks is helpful, to his cause. And then Mark Esper, the secretary of defense has gotten in trouble because you recall after the whole Lafayette Square debacle. He distanced himself from that and then he is pushed back on the use of military personnel in the streets to assist in law enforcement efforts. So for these reasons and others, the word is that the president thinking that in the second term, after the election, when there’s less political peril in firing these people, that he’s going to fire them and put people in who are more amenable to his policy preferences.

Lisa Monaco:

It’s just another example of president seeming to act or threatening to act out of peak, right? Just out of a sense of, well, if people aren’t doing my bidding or acting in my personal interest or my political interests, then I’m going to take aim at them, or I’m going to fire off a number of tweets. And at this point it’s almost like we’ve become desensitized to these efforts into these outbursts, but we really shouldn’t, right. Regardless of what you think of the performance of anybody in these particular jobs, the very fact that the president is reacting this way out of nothing more, it seems than his own personal predilections about how he thinks their actions impact him personally. You know, that is just yet another example of the abnormalcy of what we’ve been experiencing.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. That being said, no question that if the president gets reelected, this is a time for him to step back and rethink the contours of his team. And in fact, I saw something where Josh Bolton the chief of staff to George W. Bush, very thoughtful guy who’s been around DC for decades was making that exact recommendation that it’s important for a president who gets reelected to step back and think, “Okay, now, as I head into my second term, should I have a new team? How should this team be constituted?” So it’s wise to do that, but it has to be done carefully, and it can be perilous to fire people, especially in the law enforcement, justice, and national security spheres, because as we all recognize, and we’ve discussed often on these podcasts, those positions have and should have a sense of independence around them. And so people shouldn’t be moved aside from those positions, or at least the American public believes that they shouldn’t be moved aside for purely political reasons.

Ken Wainstein:

And we’ve seen some times that residents have paid a price for doing so. One example is one that I lived through back in 2006, I guess it was when President George W. Bush decided to fire a number of US attorneys. And he has every right to fire a US attorney. It’s a political appointee. You can fire a US attorney for any reason. And in this case, there were a number of different reasons why the White House decided right at the beginning of 2005, right during the transition into the second term that they wanted to do exactly what Josh Bolton recommended.

Ken Wainstein:

Where you think the team maybe bring in some new blood, give new people an opportunity in these positions to help groom others who are coming up through the ranks of Republican political appointees, all perfectly legitimate political reasons to move aside a number of US attorneys in this case, I think seven or eight, but it took a while for it to happen once they did fire them, fire them all on one day, which was unwise because it looked like a Saturday night massacre all at Dick Nixon. But it also, there were concerns that maybe there were actually political reasons why particularly US attorneys had been moved aside, like maybe they weren’t bringing enough voter fraud cases against, that would influence elections positively for the Republicans, this kind of thing.

Ken Wainstein:

And just the width of that was enough to cause a huge brouhaha, quite a scandal, actually a scandal that brought down Attorney General Gonzalez. And that was the reason he had to leave his position.

Lisa Monaco:

Oh, and we should point out just as a little historical note that the investigation into those series of US attorney firings was led by the Senate Judiciary Committee, right? And a subcommittee who’s chief staffer for that subcommittee that led that investigation was none other than, Preet Bharara.

Ken Wainstein:

In addition to that, there was a DOJ investigation that looked into whether there’s anything criminal about these US attorney firings, and that was run by none other than Nora Dannehy.

Lisa Monaco:

That’s right.

Ken Wainstein:

And Nora is the deputy to John Durham. And she’s the one who just about a month ago, resign, reportedly out of concern that the German investigation was subject to political influence.

Lisa Monaco:

Small justice world.

Ken Wainstein:

It is. What goes around, comes around.

Lisa Monaco:

Exactly. Well, look, there was other activity in the hiring and firing space, and that was with this executive order that Trump issued recently that has a lot of folks me included. And I think you too, worried that the president is politicizing the civil service and we should step back and talk about what that means. So the federal government of course his made up of predominantly 95% of career professionals, people who serve in the federal government in what’s called the civil service, they stay in their jobs regardless of the party who’s empowering. There is a application process and protections that attend to somebody in the civil service in terms of, from being fired without cause, or for being fired for political reasons, the civil service affords those types of protections to people in it precisely so they are not buffeted by the political winds so that we don’t have a world in which the president comes in and wipes out the entirety of the federal government workforce. And then you have to start a new and you lose all that expertise.

Lisa Monaco:

Well, the president issued an executive order recently that would propose to create a new it’s called a Schedule F right, the various places in the federal government, the various jobs are assigned to different classifications. And this would create a new classification within the federal civil service that would in essence, allow for the government, to the party in power, to move some folks who occupy certain positions, positions that have effect on policy determinations, policy making or advocacy positions that are career positions and move them into a political slot, meaning they could be fired without cause. And they don’t have the same civil service protections attached to those positions.

Lisa Monaco:

And it really has taken people by surprise, lots of concern that there would be that kind of monkeying as it were with the career civil service. And it is in my mind really, really dangerous because among other things you could potentially lose a whole lot of expertise that is really important and really valuable, particularly in the change from administration to administration.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. This is actually a very big issue. And I would imagine that the people marketing this podcasts would not start off a pitch for the podcast by saying, “Listen to Lisa and Ken talk about Schedule F of the personnel regulations of the US government.

Lisa Monaco:

There’s clearly a joke to be made about Schedule F.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah, exactly. But it actually really is important as you point out these regulations date back over a hundred years, to laws that were put in place to prevent the federal civil service from being a place where the president can just put his or her cronies into office, just as rewards for them having helped in the campaign or whatever also to make sure, as you said, that there is an established base of expertise in the federal civil service where people who become experts in a particular area remain in place administration to administration, and this regulation would undermine those objectives and allow the president, as you said, both to hire people more easily and without going through the process of competing the jobs for other people, with other people, other candidates, and also to fire people.

Ken Wainstein:

And look, we both been in the position of feeling frustrated when we wanted to fill a position. And we know we had a perfect candidate that we had to go through the whole process of advertising the position and letting other people apply for it. We’ve also been frustrated with how difficult it is to fire people in the federal civil service, but that’s a small price to pay for achieving the objectives I just laid out. And I think this is pretty dangerous. And a couple of things to point out is this is focused on the policy-making ranks.

Ken Wainstein:

In other words, it only applies to those civil servants who are involved in policy. And you have to sit back and ask yourself why that distinction, if the rationale for this change as the administration says is to make it easier to get rid of poor performers, why do they limit it to just policy making positions, for instance, what about the guy who does hurricane forecasting for the National Weather Service?

Ken Wainstein:

That’s a pretty important position. It’s not a policy position, but it’s a pretty important position. Should we want to be able to get rid of that guy if he’s no good, just as much as we’d want to get rid of a policy person. And so it’s I think very clear, very obvious that what they’re trying to do is just make it easier for the president to put his policy stamp on the civil service, by being able to move out people who disagree with him. And just the last point I’d make on this is that there’s actually an analogy in another area that’s been reported on recently. And that’s in the Voice of America, which is the part of the government that sponsors and oversees our radio broadcasts around the world, especially to those areas where censorship prevents people from getting real news.

Ken Wainstein:

And there has always been a rule in place called the firewall, that prevented the political appointees from influencing the substance of the news. And the purpose of that is to prevent the Voice of America from becoming a propaganda tool for the administration and for being like the propaganda patients that you have in Russia and North Korea. And so there’s a valid reason for that. And just recently, the Trump appointee at the Voice of America, rescinded that regulation. So as to make it easier for the political ranks, the Voice of America and himself to put a stamp on the substance of the news that was going out under the Voice of America. People are concerned that that is intended to allow the administration to use Voice of America, to get the administration’s political viewpoint out, which is not at all the purpose of Voice of America.

Lisa Monaco:

But let’s turn now Ken, to someone who definitely is not on the chopping block when it comes to hiring and firing decisions. And that’s somebody we mentioned earlier, Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe, he has done a number of things, including the press conference we mentioned before, he’s done a number of things that have been seen as politically advantageous to Trump, including reportedly selectively declassifying unverified intelligence regarding, Hillary Clinton.

Lisa Monaco:

And that has spawned a whole nother set of controversies around, Ratcliffe. And he is really taking his turn in the headlines these days. It struck me as yet another example of him kind of coming into this job. He came into the job with little intelligence experience, I think, except spending some time on the intelligence committee. And there was lots of concern that he would be a political kind of defender and guardian for the president, even though he pledged in his confirmation hearing to be a political.

Lisa Monaco:

But yet what we’ve seen is, as I mentioned, selective declassification of certain transcripts of phone calls regarding the Flynn controversy, Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador during the transition for the Trump administration that has spawned a bunch of controversy because he responded to Republican requests to disclose these transcripts of these calls, which is highly unusual because these are obviously highly classified and you want a real desire on the part of the intelligence community to keep those things classified.

Lisa Monaco:

And then more recently he released this unverified information suggesting that Russian intelligence had acquired information that Hillary Clinton approved a plan, during the 2016 election thereby making it sound very sinister to stir up a scandal against Trump by tying him to the Russian hacking efforts. And this was information that had been rejected by the Mueller investigation and also rejected by the Senate select committee on intelligence, the bipartisan report that they issued. But nevertheless, he released this information declassified, send it up to the Hill over the objections reportedly of Korea intelligence officials. So yet again, injecting the intelligence community into kind of politically stormy waters. What did you make of all that?

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah, I think there are a couple ways of looking at this one is, in terms of the substance, as you point out, this was a report, an alleged report of the Clinton campaign tying the Trump campaign to the DNC hacks, which is not too terribly surprising given that President Trump actually, I think at a presidential debate publicly asked the Russians to release emails. So the fact that there might’ve been such a plan, whether there was, or not, isn’t all that surprising. That’s what a political campaign is all about taking shots at your opponent.

Ken Wainstein:

So subsequently I don’t think it’s all that striking. The thing that is striking is the timing. Once again, just as we discuss with the sort of last minute arranged and breathless press conference on the eve of the second presidential debate, this information was released by DNI Ratcliffe right before the first debate. And it actually allowed Trump to make a reference to that intelligence in the first presidential debate.

Ken Wainstein:

So pretty clear that the release was timed for political reasons. And one of the many reasons that we’ve seen to be concerned that the DNI here is really operating as a political operative and less as a representative of the intelligence community.

Lisa Monaco:

And that issue in all of this, Ken was this reference to “unverified intelligence” which may have struck some as being a kind of bizarre terminology, right? What does it mean to be unverified, but yet produced by the intelligence community and have that assessment attached to it? And I think it’s worth just unpacking that for a second, which is to say that the intelligence community brings together all different sources of information when it’s trying to come up with a coherent picture for policymakers of what might be going on, right?

Lisa Monaco:

So they’re going to look at signals intelligence, right that National Security Agency collects. They’re going to look at and assess and trying to understand reports from human sources, right? These are informants and agents who are being run by handlers from the Central Intelligence Agency, which is expert in human intelligence. It could include information from government satellites, right? And everything is getting put into a assessment to try and say, “What is our kind of comprehensive picture of whatever the issue is,” whether it’s the North Korea’s efforts to assemble a nuclear capability, whether it’s Russia’s intentions with regard to disrupting our election, whether it is something going on in, Iraq and Syria.”

Lisa Monaco:

So they’re kind of compiling all of those different sources of information, understanding how competent they should be in those different sources and assembling a picture. And that’s what it means to bring together an intelligence assessment about a particular issue. And if they’ve got uncertainty or a lack of confidence, or have not been able to verify the sources of some of that information, then they’re going to lack confidence that’s going to undercut their confidence in that whole picture, right. And so I think it is worse understanding that the very thing that Ratcliffe kind of sent up declassified and sent up to the committee at Republican requests was itself unverified and lacking in confidence it seems from the intelligence community.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. And that distinction between unverified intelligence and disinformation is very important. This information, of course being information that was planted in this case, by the Russians, with the hope that our intelligence community would detect that information and be misled by it. That’s what this information is. Unverified intelligence is as you said, “Intelligence that has not been confirmed by the intelligence community.” In some of the reporting specifically, an article by Brian Greer who was a CIA lawyer, he showed the importance of that distinction in this case, because he said, “Look, there’s been a lot of talk about whether that the reference to this plan by the Clinton campaign was actually planted by the Russians.” Sort of the words intentional disinformation, the DNI to his credit acknowledged that it is not verified. So it’s at least on verified intelligence.

Ken Wainstein:

And he said that if it was disinformation, it would be less troubling that the DNI disclosed it publicly because that’s information that the Russians wanted us to see. And so the fact that the Russians learned that we’ve detected that information isn’t burning any sources and methods, if it’s just unverified intelligence, it is not this information. That means that the DNI is disclosing information that the Russians wanted to keep secret. They now know that we have that information, which gives them an insight into our capabilities.

Ken Wainstein:

So that’s more damaging from a sources and methods perspective. So as we’re seeing DNI, Ratcliffe is being accused of selective declassification. In other words, could declassification as being done selectively for political purposes, it’s worth noting however that this isn’t the first time that a government official has been accused of that. I remember back in the time that I was chief of staff to Bob Mueller, our attorney general at the time was John Ashcroft.

Ken Wainstein:

And this is 2003. And they had gotten the Patriot Act through at the end of 2001, right after the 9/11 attacks. And one of the measures in the Patriot Act was to beef up what is called Section 25, which is a law that allows the FBI to go to the FISA Court to get an order, directing somebody to provide records and other documents. And there was a great concern on the part of the American Librarian Association, that those 215 orders would be used to get reading records of people going to libraries around the country. And that had shades of a dictatorship looking into people’s thinking and reading habits.

Ken Wainstein:

And it became quite a stir. And you had people picketing outside the libraries. And in fact, that 215 section became known as the library provision because of the concern about library records and Attorney General Ashcroft, one who’s always ready for a good fight, came out strongly against the librarians. And in fact, in one famous speech, sort of mocked their concern as being hysterical.

Ashcroft:

Unfortunately at this moment, Washington is involved in a debate where hysteria threatens to obscure the most important issues. If you were to listen to some in Washington, you might believe the hysteria behind this claim, “Your local library has been surrounded by FBI agents. Agents are working around the clock like the X Files. They’re dressed in raincoats, dark suits, sporting sunglasses. They stop patrons and librarians and interrogate everyone like Joe Friday. In a dull monotone, they ask every person exiting the library, ‘Why were you at the library? What were you reading? Did you see anything suspicious?'”

Ken Wainstein:

After Attorney General Ashcroft gave that speech, he then directed the FBI director to provide information as to how often Section 215 had been used against libraries. And I was Mueller’s chief of staff at the time. And the answer to that question was zero times. So Ashcroft with great flair declassified the number of times that had been used and it was zero, very much sort of puncturing the balloon of the librarians who were, raising the specter of FBI agents, rummaging through library records all around the country. And so it was a very adept use of the declassification authority to score political points.

Lisa Monaco:

And also simultaneously raises the question, should it have been classified in the first place, right. And then creating a very good debate there I think. The other thing we should talk about Ken, because it of course involved our old division, the National Security Division, and is in keeping with the theme we’re hitting this week. Last Monday, the Department of Justice announced charges against six officers in the Russian general intelligence director at the GRU. This is the military intelligence section of the Russian government and the same incidentally element of the Russian government that conducted the 2016, hacking and dumping activities and attacks on our election.

Lisa Monaco:

So the indictment that the national security division, and the justice department announced was really quite something. These were charging again, six hackers from the GRU in the Unit 74455, a specific unit in the GRU and the charges here were really quite something that these six hackers, from the GRU were engaged in computer intrusions intended to support the retaliation and destabilizing efforts that Russia has undertaken in places like the Ukraine, in Georgia against the French elections a couple of years ago, and efforts to intrude on the Olympic games in South Korea.

Lisa Monaco:

So really these were the justice department laying charges on specific hackers in the Russian intelligence service and assigning blame and accountability for some of the biggest cyber intrusions and cyber attacks that have taken place in the last couple of years. So they put, literally put names to the biggest hacks that we’ve seen in the last couple of years. This includes the downing and the disruption of the Ukrainian power grid in 2015, with something called the BlackEnergy Malware. It literally wiped out the control system on this grid and took and crippled the power grid of Ukraine and placing about over 200,000 people without power.

Lisa Monaco:

It includes the not NotPetya malware attack again on Ukrainian organizations like banks and electricity providers that itself, this malware was designed to propagate and it got out. And in fact, impacted a hospital in Pennsylvania, impacted FedEx and created what the intelligence community assessed is $10 billion in damage worldwide.

Lisa Monaco:

The NotPetya attack is seen as the most destructive and widespread malware attack in history. And it included, as I mentioned, this really now kind of legendary hack into the Olympics in South Korea a couple of years ago. These are Russian hackers who disrupted the internet access to the drone display. I remember watching this on TV can the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. And there was this very elaborate drone, display kind of drones dancing in the stadium in South Korea, turns out that was actually all for show for the television audience.

Lisa Monaco:

They were using pre recorded video of a test run of those drones, because in fact what we now know to be Russian hackers had so disrupted the connectivity on the ground between the South Korea organizers and the drone display that they couldn’t do at life. Right. They had crippled that it was really kind of a talk about dirty tricks, right?

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. And I think the Olympic episode is the most telling one. I mean, the impunity with which Putin and the Russians are using cyber warfare, is breathtaking. And this is because he was upset that the Russian athletes have been caught doping and had been punished, and were not allowed to officially appear in the Olympics. And so he was going to retaliate. It was nothing but that. And as a result, he sets his cyber goons on disrupting the Olympics and they do, as he said, they screwed up the opening ceremonies knocked out their official website, all just as retaliation, because he was upset that he’d gotten caught and was being punished for doping violations.

Ken Wainstein:

And apparently the British have announced that they’ve found similar plot, Russian plot to disrupt the Tokyo Olympics, which as you recall, were supposed to happen this summer that got postponed to next summer because of the Coronavirus. So it just it’s telling about the motivations. I mean, you can almost sort of understand using cyber warfare against another nation state that you’re engaged in hostility with, but this is just cyber warfare for the sake of it, to try to score points against the Olympics for God’s sakes. And I think it actually highlights something that John Demers mentioned in his very well-crafted remarks when he announced this indictment that he said.

John Demers:

“But as this case shows no country has weaponized its cyber capabilities as maliciously and irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly causing unprecedented collateral damage to pursue small tactical advantages and fits of spite.”

Ken Wainstein:

And it perfectly captures Putin’s thought process and it’s a very dangerous thought process.

Lisa Monaco:

Yeah. I think there were a few things are notable about this one, as we’ve just said, assigning actual names of perpetrators to these really outrageous cyber attacks. Two, is the statement made by John Demers, the head of the national security division, that he was quite explicit in his statement that he said, “We make no election interference allegations here,” meaning with this indictment, even though it involves the same kind of players in the same unit that was responsible for the DNC hack, et cetera.

Lisa Monaco:

But he was very careful to say, “We’re not attaching this to any of the election interference issues.” Right. And then the third thing I think that was notable was when he did kind of make a statement that veered more into the kind of geopolitical analysis, right? He said, “This is nothing more than dishonest rhetoric and as cynical and cheap propaganda,” that’s how he characterized the Russia’s recent proposal for kind of a cyber reset with the United States and Demers his response in unveiling this indictment was that proposal for a cyber reset in light of what we’ve just uncovered in this indictment is nothing more than dishonest rhetoric and cynical and cheap propaganda.

Lisa Monaco:

So it was quite telling in unusual, at least in my estimation that you have a prosecutor, which is what, Demers is behind that DOJ podium unveiling an indictment really making what’s kind of a geopolitical statement.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. I think that’s worth pointing out. Though I think he’s got certainly enough support for making that statement. Just looking at the pattern of malign activity here demonstrates to any reasonable observer that Putin and Russia are incorrigible in this area that they’re going to undertake these activities literally out of fits of spite. And so if you’re dealing with an actor like that, hard to credit them proposing a reset in the cyber area.

Lisa Monaco:

No I think that’s right. What’s interesting is it shows how close these types of indictments when you’re dealing with nation state actors and nation state objectives, like you just talked about vis-a-vis the Olympics, et cetera, how close you can get into this foreign policy realm with these types of cases. And it points up another trend that we’re seeing. This is yet another example of this practice of using indictments against nation state, cyber actors to expose not only those tactics and those threats, but also to send a signal, I think to other actors that a, the US government can see what they’re doing and can attribute it and expose it. And B, these are the types of activities that we think are beyond the pale or outside the norm and that we’ll seek to hold these individuals accountable for, and these governments accountable for.

Lisa Monaco:

Now, that would be the justice department argument and one that I very much support and supported when I led the National Security Division. And we started the investigation that became the indictment into the five members of the People’s Liberation Army of China for intellectual property theft and cyber espionage, but that whole approach and that tactic and that Siri has come under some criticism, including from, our friend Jack Goldsmith and recent stay tuned guest.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. And I think you and your colleagues, and in fact, John Carlin sort of blaze that path, by launching that investigation and then, and then securing the indictment, which was against the Chinese PLA, officials, which was the first time that the US government had actually charged members of a foreign nation state, for cyber activities. Then Jack Goldsmith, as you said, has criticized the department for this particular press conference and for the practice of indicting these foreign national reform government officials, pretty well knowing that we’re probably never going to actually get them into a US courtroom, very unlikely as we haven’t gotten the Chinese officials whom you and John indicted, we will never get these Russians GRU officials here in a US courtroom.

Ken Wainstein:

But look, there’s real value to the justice department doing this. It is a name and shaming exercise, and it helps to point the finger of blame at those countries that are engaged in the most serious misconduct in this area. And that has international implications among the other countries of the world. When they see these charges being brought against a country like Russia, it’s a basis for other activities, other responses like sanctions. And in the case of China, there was talk about sanctions following the public charges.

Lisa Monaco:

Well, now to, to give Jack his do, I think the most forceful point I think he makes is that these naming and shaming indictments is worse than just ineffective in terms of not being able to get these guys ultimately into handcuffs and in a courtroom. I think he would argue that it’s counterproductive because by not being able to actually slap handcuffs on these guys to actually get them into an American courtroom, it’s showing that we can’t do anything with these charges, right.

Lisa Monaco:

He would say that it is not effective in deterring and therefore gives more, more running room to these bad actors. Now, I don’t agree entirely with that argument. I am, as I said, a kind of proponent of this naming and shaming, because it does expose the activity and does provide a basis, as you said, for some of the other activities that can lead to deterrence. And we don’t necessarily see all of the types of deterrent activity that a government can take, whether it’s intelligence operations, whether it’s diplomatic overtures, that may not always be public that can lead to some deterrence as we saw in the case of the 2015 cyber accord between the United States and China, that was a really a direct result, both of the PLA indictment and the threat to put very public sanctions on these Chinese actors on the eve of president Xi, visiting the United States for kind of a summit meeting with President Obama.

Lisa Monaco:

She did not want there to be an announcement of sanctions against, Chinese officials as he was landing in Washington DC. And that really brought him to the negotiating table. And to a although brief, I think effective reduction in Chinese cyber activity against the United States that now has been completely blown by the wayside, but it is an example of how these types of indictments and those types of threats at least of sanctions can result in some deterrence.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah, I get Jack’s point. And, he makes it very well. I just think better to have leverage and use leverage than to not. And in this case, as you point out, this was well presented by the justice department in his press conference. It made the news, people noticed it. And so it could end up having the same impact the 2014 indictment had with the Chinese. One thing I want to point out though, is that we’re talking now all about cyber activities by Russia, but I think it’s worth pointing out that this is nothing new. This all was happening prior to the cyber age. And in fact, one of our colleagues pulled up an interesting episode from back in 1984, where the Russians did something similar in regard to the 1984 Olympics that were scheduled that did take place in Los Angeles.

Ken Wainstein:

And as you recall, the backdrop here is the Olympics were in Moscow in 1980. That happened to be the year after the Russians, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan an unprovoked invasion of a peaceful country. We did not want to go to an Olympics in that in Russia, right after they had invaded Afghanistan. So we boycotted their Olympics. Four years later, they retaliated by boycotting our Olympics that were taking place in Los Angeles. But in addition, they decided to undertake some activity that would try to scare other people or other countries away from going to the Olympics. Specifically, what they did is they drafted some fake letters that made racist and threatening statements to the Olympic committees of 20 different African and Asian countries.

Ken Wainstein:

And these were, letters that were allegedly from the Ku Klux Klan and primarily from Virginia and as Virginia and by the way, I’d take great exception to that. But these letters supposedly, were from the Ku Klux Klan were threatening these other countries. And the Russians then used that, the fact that these letters as a justification for them and urging others to boycott the Olympics. It was unmasked as being sourced to the Russians and not to the Ku Klux Klan. And in fact, the attorney general at time, William French Smith went on TV and announced that they had determined that these were fakes and that they were sourced back to the Russians.

Speaker 6:

Attorney General William French Smith said today, the Soviet union is responsible for forged letters, threatening Asian and African athletes at the Los Angeles Olympic games. Smith told the American Bar Association that the Soviet KGB wrote letters, which appeared to have been written by the Ku Klux Klan in an effort to justify the Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles games.

Ken Wainstein:

It was all an effort to disrupt the Olympics here in the US, so very similar activity back in the Soviet era that we’re seeing now in the post-Soviet era.

Lisa Monaco:

Well, really kind of chilling can to see the type of historical parallel between the Russian efforts to retaliate against South Korea and the doping scandal in the most recent Olympics with their efforts, similarly, in the 1980s.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. I think the takeaway that is that the Soviet Union might be gone in name, but is not gone in practice and operation and dirty tricks. So let’s move on to our last segment here. And that is the segment that I always enjoy, which is unsung heroes. The natural choice for the unsung hero for this week is the American voter.

Lisa Monaco:

Yeah. We were kind of debating is that too corny, but as I look at the volume of early voting that is going on, it’s really kind of stunning when you think about just the sheer numbers of people going to the polls early, getting out there. I think we’re now at just over 50% of the entire number of votes that were cast in 2016 have now been cast, thus far in this election. That’s really a stunning number of votes to already have been cast and really portends a huge amount of turnout, in this election.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. And it’s really striking in particular, given that there are a lot of things going on right now that could deter voters from actually exercising the franchise. I mean, you’ve got the Coronavirus pandemic is scaring people from in-person voting. You got to talk about postal delays that could complicate mail and voting. And then you’ve got some of the rhetoric out there by President Trump and others trying to cast doubt on the credibility or the integrity of the voting process. Despite all those facts, despite all those sorts of headwinds, the American voters are turning out in droves, in unprecedented numbers. They are energized to vote in this election and that’s wonderful to see. It’s downright inspirational.

Lisa Monaco:

Totally agree with that. Well, that’s all the time we have for today, Ken. We’ll be back in two weeks

Ken Wainstein:

In the meantime, send us your questions at [email protected] and we’ll do our best to answer them in our next episode.

Lisa Monaco:

Till next time.

Ken Wainstein:

That’s it for this week’s episode of the United Security podcast, your hosts are Lisa Monaco and Ken Wainstein. The executive producer is to Tamara Sepper, the senior producer is Adam Waller. The senior audio producer is David Tatasciore. And the CAFE team is David Kurlander, Nat Wiener, Matthew Billy, Sam Ozer-Staton, Noa Azulai Jake Kaplan, Calvin Lord, Geoff Isenman, Chris Boylan, Sean Walsh, and Margot Malley. And our music is by Alison Leighton Brown. Thank you for being part of the CAFE Insider community.