• Show Notes
  • Transcript

On this inaugural episode of United Security, “Bounties, Bolton, and COVID-19,” Lisa Monaco and Ken Wainstein discuss recent reporting that the Russians paid bounties to Taliban linked militias to kill U.S. service members in Afghanistan, make sense of the Bolton saga including a breakdown of the pre-publication review process for former government officials, and provide an update on the resurgence of COVID-19.

REFERENCES & SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS

Russian Bounties

Andrew Higgins and Andrew E. Kramer, “Russia Denies Paying Bounties, but Some Say the U.S. Had It Coming,” New York Times, 7/3/2020

Charlie Savage, Mujib Mashal, Rukmini Callimachi, Eric Scmitt and Adam Goldman, “Suspicions of Russian Bounties Were Bolstered by Data on Financial Transfers,” New York Times, 6/30/2020

“CIA did not verbally brief Trump on Russia report, says official,” BBC 7/1/2020

Charlie Wilson’s War IMDB

The Geneva Conventions ICRC

Background to “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections:” The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution, DNI Report 2017

Bolton Book

Alex Abdo and Meenakshi Krishnan, “Explainer: Prepublication Review and How it Applies to Bolton,” Just Security, 1/30/20

Jack Goldsmith and Marty Lederman, “Assessing the Government’s Lawsuit Against John Bolton,” Lawfare, 6/17/20

Charlie Savage, “Judge Rejects Trump Request for Order Blocking Bolton’s Memoir,” New York Times, 6/20/2020

Memorandum order denying motion for TRO/Preliminary Injunction Washington Post, 6/20/20

Frank Snepp, Decent Interval: An Insider’s Account of Saigon’s Indecent End Told by the CIA’s Chief Strategy Analyst in Vietnam, University Press of Kansas, 1977

Snepp v. United States, Oyez, 1980

“Coverup?” Mike Wallace and Frank Snepp Interview, 60 Minutes, 1977

Frank Snepp on William F. Buckley, Jr.’s Firing Line, Hoover Institution, 1981

Frank Snepp in Conversation with Clete Roberts, Witness to War, 1983

COVID-19

“Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count,” New York Times, As of 7/9/2020

Fauci warns “We’re still knee deep in the first wave,” YouTube, 7/7/20

Drew Hinshaw and Stephanie Armour, “Trump Moves to Pull Out of World Health Organization in Midst of Covid-19 Pandemic,” Wall Street Journal, 7/7/20

Paul Schemm and Adam Taylor, “Tearful WHO director calls for global unity to fight virus following U.S. pullout,” Washington Post, 7/9/20

Pien Huang, “Explainer: What Does The World Health Organization Do?” NPR, 4/28/2020

The Defense Production Act of 1950, FEMA.gov

Preet Bharara:

Hey folks, I hope you find this conversation between Lisa and Ken valuable. As always write to us with your questions and comments at [email protected]

Lisa Monaco:

From CAFE, this is United Security.

Lisa Monaco:

I’m Lisa Monaco.

Ken Wainstein:

And I’m Ken Wainstein.

Lisa Monaco:

Hey, Ken, great to be back with you.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah, it’s great to be here. And we’re here in an official full-fledged way now with our new podcast.

Lisa Monaco:

Yep. This is our official launch episode of our new podcast, United Security. I still wish we could be doing this in the studio, but you and I are in our remote locations. So one of these days, we’ll get back to having that fuzzy microphone between our two heads. But for now it’s great to be back with you and I’m really excited to launch this.

Ken Wainstein:

I’m excited too. And hey, being at home has its advantages, shorts and flip flops, a little more comfortable than a suit at the studio. But it’s exciting to be part of this effort to have a podcast, to be doing this on a biweekly basis and to be doing it with you, and there’s a lot to talk about. First, let me just ask you, well, what have you been up to since we last podcasted together?

Lisa Monaco:

Well, I’ve been like you, I’ve been juggling lots of different things. Filling my days in home confinement here. I’m a partner in a law firm at O’Melveny & Myers, I’m teaching at NYU. But lately I’ve been spending a bunch of time on effort, both as a member of former Vice President, Biden’s public health advisory committee helping with a few other public health and Homeland Security experts, advise him on the coronavirus.

Lisa Monaco:

And I’m also helping to lead the vetting process for the vice presidential nominee. How about you? What have you been up to?

Ken Wainstein:

Well, that latter piece makes me want to ask me some good inside baseball questions, but I suspect we won’t get any answers-

Lisa Monaco:

Nope.

Ken Wainstein:

… so I won’t even try. But hey, good for you doing that work. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that this is actually an election year when it’s 24/7 COVID-19 coverage, but always important to play an important part in the presidential elections. I’ve also have been trying to maintain my law practice, but also keep up with the dizzying parade of national security events that we’ve been seeing, which I think is a good lead into today because we have a few important ones to talk about today.

Lisa Monaco:

Yeah, we’ve got a lot of things to break down and what we’re going to try and do now every two weeks on this podcast is break down national security issues, explain what’s going on, what the significance of these issues is. Try and get past the polemics, get past the talking points and talk about things from a fact-based perspective. Also provide some historical perspective to some of the events that we’re seeing.

Lisa Monaco:

So today I think we’ve got a pretty full agenda. Ken, as far as I can tell, we’re want to talk about the latest reporting on this intelligence that’s emerged about Russians, Russia paying bounties to Taliban linked militias to kill our service members in Afghanistan. Want to talk about the latest on the Bolton book saga, and of course, the latest updates on what’s going on with the coronavirus.

Ken Wainstein:

Yep. So we’ve got a full plate, so let’s jump right into it. Why don’t we start with the Russian bounties and just a quick snapshot of what’s happened over the last few weeks. It’s been publicly disclosed that intelligence was received earlier in the year that the Russian military intelligence was paying bounties to members of the Taliban specifically to kill coalition forces and U.S. forces, soldiers. Bounties to be paid for the deaths of American soldiers.

Ken Wainstein:

Pretty shocking intelligence. Intelligence in short as reported publicly is that there was detainee reporting. In other words, Taliban fighters who were captured who said that bounties had been paid by the GRU, by the Russian intelligence, military intelligence and some indication that money had been transferred from the Russian government to the Taliban. And this intelligence at least the CIA and the National Counterterrorism Center judged with medium confidence that these bounties were being paid.

Ken Wainstein:

There was a difference of opinion amongst some of the agencies as to the strength of the evidence, but the strength of the intelligence, but that’s the intelligence picture that was learned earlier this year. Apparently the NSC, National Security Council had a meeting to talk about the intelligence and what to do, but ultimately there was no public or policy response to the Russians. And then it got leaked and publicly disclosed, and since that public disclosure, the whole debate has been about whether there should have been a response and why there was no response.

Ken Wainstein:

So that’s the stage that we’re at right now and I guess my first question to you is this, sounds terrible a foreign government, a member of the world order actually paying money to irregular troops to ask specifically to kill soldiers of another government. How bad is that compared to the back and forth efforts that different powers make to try to benefit themselves and to the detriment of other countries?

Lisa Monaco:

Look, you and I both know we’ve spent our life in government, certainly the last decade of our lives in government consuming intelligence, being a customer of the intelligence community for reports sometimes that come in and evolve over time. There’s always going to be, I think, differing assessments from different members of the intelligence community. Nothing is ever 100%. So I think there’s a few issues we should unpack on this. One is what you just laid out.

Lisa Monaco:

How significant is this? How should we be thinking about this question of paying of bounties? The question about what did the president know and when did he know it? That was the first issue that consumed the media on this and the public debate, and based on what is known, what should be done about it? And how should the policy makers and how should the White House and the U.S. government respond to something like this?

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah and I agree. There are big issues here. I guess the first one I’m asking myself as well, bounties sound terrible, but we have a history of providing arms to irregular troops that are fighting other powers. For instance watch the movie, Charlie Wilson’s War. That’s all about how we provided Sting Ray Missiles to the Mujahideen that really broke the back of the Soviets when they invaded Afghanistan and resulted in the deaths of countless Russian soldiers.

Ken Wainstein:

So we weren’t paying bounties, but we were taking actions i.e. providing arms that resulted in the death of Russian soldiers.

Speaker 3:

Well, I will tell you what I told [inaudible 00:06:40]. I can get the money. Now, 10 million is a joke, fine. What do you need?

Speaker 4:

To do what?

Speaker 3:

To shoot down the helicopters, to shoot down the helicopters. If we can have them shoot down the goddamn helicopters, everything’s going to start going our way.

Ken Wainstein:

Why is it different when the Russians reportedly offer bounties for the deaths of American soldiers?

Lisa Monaco:

Yeah. And you see the Russian officials now responding to these reports pointing exactly to what you just said, Ken, to the history of the U.S. supporting the Mujahideen. But look, from my perspective, I think bounties is different in kind. First and foremost, this is involves a direct impact on our service members in a conflict, in a place that we’ve been now for two decades and having expended untold blood and treasure.

Lisa Monaco:

And so this is a direct link by a foreign adversary against our service members. So that’s point one. Point two is, I think it is an escalation that’s different in kind. We know that the Russians have long a, supported the Taliban. We know that they have also over time tried to undermine the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan. But I think it is a new escalation and also a new low in terms of their past efforts to actually provide an incentive and payment for Taliban like militias to go after and kill, paying for those results to kill our service members.

Lisa Monaco:

So I think it is different in kind and it’s yet another example of Russia pushing the boundaries in terms of what it will do if unchecked.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah, and I totally agree with you, it is completely different in kind. You got to remember that war is horrible, and the point of war is to kill the other side before they kill you. And so it’s by nature brutal, but we have rules by which we conduct war, the Geneva Conventions and the like. So this is beyond the pale and it’s shocking. I guess the question then that you are alluding to is, why did Russia do it?

Ken Wainstein:

Assuming the reporting is correct, why would they do something that would possibly be publicly disclosed and they would then be seen as doing something this horrendous? I know there’s been a good bit of commentary about both what Russia’s motivations were as a country, but also Putin’s motivations and how he still resents our role in the fall of the Soviet Union, specifically our role helping the Mujahideen defeat them in Afghanistan, which I think led fairly directly to the fall of or the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Ken Wainstein:

But also his resentment of the roles we played in the Ukraine and Syria where we’d been supporting forces that are positioned against Russia. And then also I think what you talked about, a new low. It is a new low though there’ve been some pretty low lows before this. You think about them poisoning the Russian spy and his daughter in United Kingdom, in London in a way that ultimately it was bound to be traced back to Russia.

Ken Wainstein:

They were willing to do that, they were willing to be outed publicly for assassinating a Russian spy in the United Kingdom and did it nonetheless, as though there’s almost a desire to be seen as being that extreme.

Lisa Monaco:

Yeah. Look, I think the Russia Watchers and the Russia analysts, the experts on this would say and have provided this analysis that there’s an effort to continue to push the envelope if left unchecked. They supply the Taliban, provide financial support, have efforts to undermine our coalition in Afghanistan, and they’re going to continue to push and push. And yes, in an effort to foment discord there and keep things unstable in that region.

Lisa Monaco:

It’s unsurprisingly that you and I would agree that having bounties on our soldiers is a new low, but there’s a bunch of other issues here that have captivated the discussion. And this whole thing started as you said before, Ken, with a disclosure, I think the first reporting was in the New York Times about this intelligence. There’s some reporting that the intelligence dates back to as early as March 2019, and that it also appeared in the President’s Daily Brief in February of this year, February of 2020.

Lisa Monaco:

But the first couple of days of this story was all about, to use the old Watergate phrase, what did the president know and when did he know it? And so we had a whole series of discussions about, was the president briefed? I think the White House’s first statement on this is that the president wasn’t quote, unquote “briefed,” but unclear what that means. Was he orally briefed? Did he read something in the President’s Daily Brief?

Lisa Monaco:

Should we be focusing on that, Ken? What do you think? Do you think it should matter? You used to consume this information every day.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. It’s a fair question, and it’s the kind of question that you always get in the aftermath of some bad news. I remember back after 9/11, there had been an entry in the President’s Daily Brief, the PDB that back in August 2001, that Al Qaeda was considering using airplanes to attack the Homeland or something to that effect. And there was a lot of questioning after the fact as to whether the president read that, why he and his top advisors didn’t do something about it.

Ken Wainstein:

So I think it’s a fair question here as well when we’re hearing about some pretty outrageous conduct by the Russians and no apparent response by our government to try to stop that conduct and deter Russia from doing it again in the future. And look, the PDB process, the whole process is designed to take the intelligence that’s collected throughout the intelligence community and on a daily basis, synthesize that information, get it to a point where you prioritize the threats that are out there.

Ken Wainstein:

And then get that briefed to the president and the top level officials within the government so that they can then make decisions about what actions should be taken to protect our national security. And if those briefings don’t happen, then those protective measures don’t take place, and then we end up being more vulnerable. And that seems to be what happened here. So I think it’s a perfectly fair question to ask, did the president get briefed on this?

Ken Wainstein:

Did he digest the importance of this? And did he and others in the White House make an affirmative decision whether to take action or not? And apparently that didn’t happen.

Lisa Monaco:

Yeah. The other thing I think we should break down a little bit for folks is there’s been discussion about, well, this information was “unverified.” Some of the discussion has been, well, it wasn’t 100% verified and all of that. I think folks should just know since you and I, again, consume this information, we were recipients of the President’s Daily Brief. Information is always going to be coming from different sources. Those sources are going to have different levels of credibility attached to them.

Lisa Monaco:

The intelligence community is going to assess with different levels of confidence and here at the outset, Ken, you mentioned that the CIA and the National Counterterrorism Center assessed with moderate confidence. We should explain for people what that means. What it means from an intelligence discipline point of view is that the information that the intelligence community had was from credible sources and that the community assessed it as plausible. That’s what it means to have moderate confidence.

Lisa Monaco:

Now, it’s not 100% and you’re very rarely if ever going to have the smoking gun definitive proof of something. This is constantly a practice of pulling together different sources of information and providing the best expert analytical judgements to that information.

Ken Wainstein:

Right. And we see this over and over. In fact, an example that came up not too long ago was the intelligence community assessment into the Russian interference in the 2016 election. The NSA departed from that and said they had, I think it was medium confidence. So that’s fairly common, so it’s not surprising that that happened here as well.

Lisa Monaco:

I think that’s also because these different intelligence agencies have different expertise. So the National Security Agency that you just mentioned that had moderate confidence or medium confidence, they specialize in what’s called signals intelligence, electronic intercepts. Whereas the CIA specializes in human intelligence, information provided by informants and the like. So different agencies have different disciplines and different sources of expertise, so they’re naturally going to assess information differently.

Lisa Monaco:

The other thing, Ken, there’s been this question out there, which I think people rightly ask, well, look, do you walk into the oval office with unverified information? Do you bring every rumor to the president? My answer to that is absolutely no, you don’t do that. You don’t bring in every rumor, but something like this in my view, in my experience that bears on the safety of our service members in a place that we have spent a lot of time, and money, and effort, and have significant interests with the actions of avowed adversary of ours, absolutely. I would bring that into the president.

Lisa Monaco:

I think it’s something that he needs to know. I’d walk into the oval office and say, “This is what the intelligence community is telling us.” But importantly, you want to also be bringing the president options to deal with that information.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. And I think I just have canvas some of the commentary about this and it seems like it’s fairly universal among other people who served as advisors, national security advisors to presidents that they’ve been saying that this is the kind of thing, given the severity of the allegation, and given what it says about Russia, and what Russia is willing to do, it’s the kind of intelligence that would have been taken to the president. And then the question would be, as you said, what should the president do about it?

Ken Wainstein:

And in the typical scenario, if the alarm bells had been rung and the National Security Council Agency process had gotten cranked up, and apparently there was one meeting, but that didn’t result in any policy output. But if that had happened, you would typically have a lower level meeting within the National Security Council to look at the various options and literally go through a checklist of here are the things we can do that would have the objective effect and objective of stopping this conduct, condemning this conduct and deterring this conduct in the future.

Ken Wainstein:

And those are the different sub objectives of whatever policy response that you’d come up with. Those would be refined with input from all parts of the government, from the defense side. And obviously they have a strong equity in this because it’s their people who are targeted by these bounties, from State Department who would look at whatever options there are from a diplomatic perspective and balance the interests of maintaining diplomacy against sending a strong message.

Ken Wainstein:

And all parts of the government, we would then formulate a set of options, which would then be presented to the president, and the president would then decide which of those options to pursue. And in terms of options, well, you can lay out some of them, sanctions to P&G and diplomats to, going back on the effort to try to let Russia rejoin the G7.

Lisa Monaco:

Yeah. You’re quite right, Ken. You present a range of options to the president from what’s called a diplomatic demarche, so that’s diplomacy speak for sending a stern message, having our diplomats go to their counterparts and say, “This is what we understand to be happening and it needs to stop, and we understand what’s going on.” To letting them know that you know, to efforts to respond and deter.

Lisa Monaco:

Things like not inviting the Russians to an upcoming summit. There’s been a lot of reporting about the fact that President Trump had a number of phone calls with President Putin in between the time that this intelligence came in and when it became publicly known. And in those series of phone calls, he talked about inviting President Putin to the United States, inviting them back to the G7.

Lisa Monaco:

These are all things that are carrots, if you will. They’re olive branches, they are rewards on the world stage from one leader to another. And so one of the many reasons why you’d want to be briefing the president and have him aware of this very concerning intelligence is so that in those discussions, you take it into account and you don’t extend rewards or positive steps at a time when you’ve got this very concerning intelligence about what Russia is doing.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. No, I think, I think you’re right. And that’s why this issue has some legs and probably some staying power because what you have is you have carrots being offered at a time a stick was really called for. And there were a number of sticks that could have been used as I mentioned. They could have gone back on the president’s offer to readmit Russia into the G7. He could have said that we’re rethinking the reduction of U.S. forces in Germany.

Ken Wainstein:

Could have talked about upping sanctions against Russia, as we’ve done in the past. We could have talked about increasing our military assistance to Ukraine in their confrontation with Russia. So there are a number of things that could have been done, which would have been more consistent with the kind of message that was called for.

Lisa Monaco:

Yeah. Because those are all things that are going to bite Russia. They’re not going to like that.

Ken Wainstein:

And that’s what they listened to.

Lisa Monaco:

Right. Yeah, exactly.

Ken Wainstein:

Putin only responds to forceful measures. We’re not going to talk him into being a nice guy. Then I guess the last question about this is, what is the cost of inaction here? What is it that we can expect to come out from the fact that Putin has apparently done this outrageous thing, offered bounties for the deaths of American soldiers and got nothing but silence in response?

Lisa Monaco:

Well, look, first and most importantly, it continues to put our service members at risk if left unchecked. That’s obviously the most important thing. And it continues to send a signal that there aren’t going to be costs for learning about this and there won’t be deterrent measures taken. One of the other things as I think we talk about this, Ken, that we could do, and is something I think we would consider is working with our allies and partners to respond.

Lisa Monaco:

In other words, is there a way that we would go out and explain to our allies and partners, particularly those who are in the coalition in Afghanistan, working with us to say, “Here’s the intelligence we have. This is the picture that we’re seeing. Work with us to isolate Russia, to impose sanctions.” So we get some of our partners also on board who of course have a stake in making sure that this isn’t going on in Afghanistan. So all of those things are measures, I think we could and should be considering.

Ken Wainstein:

Yep. It’s in any bilateral relationship with any foreign government, but in particular, when it comes to Russia, it’s critical to make sure that when they step over the line, that they get smacked back. And that apparently didn’t happen here, apparently didn’t happen… Doesn’t seem to have happened at least forceful enough in response to the Russia interference with the 2016 election. And as a result, the fear is that this kind of conduct is only going to continue and maybe even get worse in the future.

Lisa Monaco:

Yeah. No, look, you’re absolutely right. I know this debate all too well, right. There’s been criticism of how the Obama administration handled the Russian attack on our election and did the United States respond forcefully enough, soon enough? And that’s a debate that continues to this day, but was never considered appropriate to do nothing.

Lisa Monaco:

You can argue about the timing, you can argue about the degree, but to not respond at all when Russia bears its teeth in this way and particularly when it involves the lives of service members, that’s when we absolutely need to be formulating response options, and acting on those, and hopefully acting with our partners. So look, I think there’s going to be a lot more to come on this issue.

Lisa Monaco:

Congress has now been briefed, although in a kind of departure from the norm, the White House summoned separately Democratic members and Republican members to the White House to receive briefings. And there’ve been questions about whether the intelligence community was sufficiently involved in those briefings, but I’m very confident that the intelligence committees, the armed services committees will get the experts up to the hill to give them classified briefings about what more we know about this.

Lisa Monaco:

So we’re going to hear more on this story as it develops and we’ll be talking about it. So Ken, I think we’ve got a little bit of a worlds colliding situation here, which is there’s been some reporting that the intelligence on this Russian bounties issue dates back to March 2019, when of course John Bolton was still the National Security Advisor. And he’s been somebody very much in the news these days. I think you’d be living under a rock if you hadn’t heard, he’s got a book out called The Room Where It Happened.

Lisa Monaco:

I’m guessing that the folks, Hamilton and musical there have a view on that title, but there’ve been lots of revelations that have come out about that book. Lots of interesting tidbits about Bolton’s observations while he’s been in the White House. But I think there’s two particularly interesting issues around this controversy over the publication of this book. To my mind, the issues really boiled down to the unusual example he’s setting of being the National Security Advisor penning a book about the president who appointed him while that president is still in office.

Lisa Monaco:

And then of course the controversy around the whole process of reviewing that book before it gets published. And we now know that the government has tried to stop on successfully his publication of that book. But people are learning more and more about what used to be a dorky and Byzantine process called the pre-publication review process that only people like you and me really had to worry about, but now a lot more people have learned about it.

Lisa Monaco:

And since you and I both are subject to it, maybe you could talk a little bit, Ken about what is the pre-publication review process.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. This is a fascinating controversy with the whole nest of issues and it once again, goes back to John Bolton. He’s a long time foreign policy expert. He’s been around D.C. for decades. He became the national security advisor for president Trump. They worked together for a while and then he left on bad terms, got crosswise with the president.

Ken Wainstein:

He then popped up again in the context of the impeachment proceeding where there was some talk about him possibly testifying as to whether there was a quid pro quo between the president releasing aid to the Ukraine in return for the Ukraine conducting an investigation that might result in digging up hopeful dirt on Vice President Biden. Bolton ended up not testifying during the impeachment proceeding, but now he has published his book.

Ken Wainstein:

And the question that’s been raised, you broke it down appropriately into two questions, one is an ethical, moral decision as to whether this kind of book is appropriate by somebody, a high level advisor to the president. Then a question of whether what he’s done by releasing this book is legal. So starting with the first look, I think there’s a real question here.

Ken Wainstein:

And I think that there’s been some interesting dialogue among people who have served in these kinds of positions like you and I have as to whether it’s really, putting aside legal, whether it’s right for somebody to be an advisor to the president and turn right around and then do a kiss and tell book. And there are very real life concerns there. We want presidents to be able to ruminate, and speak their mind, and think through all options behind closed doors with their advisors and not worry that six months later they’re ill formed or nascent thoughts about an issue might be Chronicle then out there for the whole world to see.

Ken Wainstein:

There are concerns that these kind of kiss and tell books can chill the very vital conduct deliberative process that we want presidents to go through when they’re dealing with crises and critical issues like this.

Lisa Monaco:

Well, actually, I’m going to say Ken, I think it’s a valid question and criticism. The one thing I think may have been a bit over done is people have said, “Oh, it’s unprecedented for somebody who’ve held the position that he did and that type of position to write this book while the president’s still in office.” I went back and looked at this because that didn’t sound right to me.

Lisa Monaco:

I remember Bob Gates, former Secretary of Defense who served six presidents, and the last president he served with President Obama who famously asked him to stay on after the Bush administration as Secretary of Defense. He published a book in 2015 when of course the last president he served, Obama was still in office. And Leon Panetta published a memoir in 2014. He also of course served both as President Obama’s Secretary of Defense and as Director of the CIA.

Lisa Monaco:

So I think there’s plenty of precedent for people to go out and write books about the presidents that they served under while that president is still in office. I think there’s a slightly different thing at issue here, which is those other books that I mentioned were broad memoirs about their government service, and this Bolton book is very pointed very specifically about the Trump presidency. He calls in the book, “Trump stunningly uninformed.” I think that’s a quote that’s gotten a lot of attention.

Lisa Monaco:

So while I don’t think it’s completely unprecedented for this to happen, this book does seem to be different in kind in its focus and it’s very, very pointed and a tough, tough criticism of the president that he served under.

Ken Wainstein:

Right. But then no matter whether you like that or not, you agree with the kiss and tell book or not, our first amendment protects one’s ability and right to speak about our own experiences and they cannot be censored absent concerns about classified information and other privileges. But in this case, we’re now in litigation, or the government is in litigation with Bolton because they contend that Bolton did not go through what you call the dorky process of the pre-publication review, which it is dorky, but it’s actually really important.

Ken Wainstein:

That grows out of a process that has developed over the last few decades, where people who take on these jobs that require clearances in the government as you and I did agree at the outset in writing that we will obviously protect classified information. And if we right either during or after our departure from government position about matters that might be classified, that we’ll submit those writings to whatever agency we belong to for that agency to review those writings, to ensure that there’s nothing classified in them.

Ken Wainstein:

So memoirs, editorials, this kind of thing, all have to be submitted to the agency where a former government official who has a clearance used to work, and that agency has to sign off. In this case, Bolton did exactly that, submitted his manuscript to the National Security Council, the clear person who does the reviews. That person and her staff reviewed his lengthy manuscript and there was a multi month effort or process of going back and forth to sanitize the book of classified information.

Ken Wainstein:

And ultimately, even though he believed the process was done according to his lawyers account, he never got a final letter from the NSC saying that the manuscript was free of all classified information, it could be published. And he and his publisher went ahead and announced a publication date at the end of June. The government hearing that then filed a lawsuit both to prevent him from publishing on the 23rd as scheduled, but also to say that if he does publish, then any revenue from the publication of that book would be sequestered and go to the government.

Ken Wainstein:

And that’s an interesting remedy, but it’s actually one that’s in the law that says that if a former government official violates their agreement to go through the pre-publication review process before publishing anything, then the government then has the right to take all their proceeds. Obviously designed to deter people from circumventing the pre-publication review process.

Lisa Monaco:

Yeah. And I don’t know about you, Ken, but I remember both the first time I signed all those documents to signing up to this commitment along with getting your security clearance, and I also remember and have experienced submitting several things. Never a book, but several op-eds for the pre-publication review process. So we should just break that down for people.

Lisa Monaco:

When you get a security clearance, one of the things you sign up to is this commitment. You sign a nondisclosure agreement, you tell the government that you are obviously not going to disclose classified information to those who don’t have both a need to know and have a security clearance themselves. And you sign up to this commitment that you’re going to submit anything that you write in the future, touching on your experience and that could potentially have classified information in it. You agree that you’re going to submit that to the government.

Lisa Monaco:

And I remember the first time I did this I remember going into a SCIF, what’s called a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. At this time it was in the Justice Department and I remember signing a whole host of documents. I liken it to when you’re closing on a house, you’re constantly signing dozens of different pieces of paper. I remember signing on the dotted line and I was signing up to this commitment.

Lisa Monaco:

And it is something that you agree to. It’s basically a contract, that because of the privilege to receive this classified information and get the security clearance, you’re going to agree not to disclose it. And the process though, I think has sometimes suffered both on the one hand, of course, over classification is a big problem. You and I have seen that in practice, but what this whole Bolton episode has exposed is sometimes the lack of uniformity around some of the processes.

Lisa Monaco:

So the whole issue with Bolton as I understand it looking at this litigation is he did go through the process, but he didn’t ultimately get that piece of paper or that final piece of writing to tell him he was done with the process and he was clear. And that’s what the whole debate is now turning on.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. And that’s exactly it. He didn’t get the final green light and the government is harking back to this process that’s been in place. In fact, dates back to, I guess the 1970s, there’s a famous case involving a CIA officer named Frank Snepp who was with the CIA working in Vietnam. He after his experience in Vietnam where he saw what he thought was gross incompetence by the CIA and various shenanigans that were unsavory, he wrote a book.

Ken Wainstein:

He actually agreed with the director of CIA to go through pre-publication review, and then after he wrote the book, he opted not to and he went ahead and published. And the government sued and they got the proceeds of his book and the Supreme Court upheld that remedy and found that that was appropriate, that he didn’t read into a contract.

Lisa Monaco:

Boy, Ken, you’re really out nerding me with this reference to the Snepp case. I think it was a 1980 Supreme Court ruling, and I think as this issue got discussed later, Snepp himself has been known to have reflected on this issue in subsequent media interviews.

Frank Snepp:

My personal experience with the CIA was a lawsuit. The U.S. government sued me for publishing Decent Interval without the CIA’s approval, even though nobody ever accused me of publishing any secrets in the book. The lawsuit went all the way to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme court came down with a decision which is historic in its implications. The Supreme Court decided that every government worker in a position of trust, whether in the CIA, State Department, National Security Council has an implicit obligation to submit what he says or writes about his work to the government for censorship.

Frank Snepp:

If he doesn’t, he is liable to monetary penalties, forfeiture of all of his profits and all of the profits from Decent Interval. My profits were forfeited to the government and they are subject to a lifelong gag order, which means that he must continue to submit his statements to the government for approval, again, even if there are no secrets involved, and even if he has signed no secrecy agreement with the government. This involves an implicit obligation.

Frank Snepp:

One of the victims of the Vietnam war was the first amendment and my case was one of the cases that came out of the Vietnam war.

Ken Wainstein:

Just like John Bolton, and like you and me, and everybody else who serves in those positions, that’s a binding contract that follows us even after we leave government service. And the question here in this litigation is whether even though he started on the process, whether he completed the process and therefore ahead was entitled to go forward. And right, the government has basically asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction to enjoin the publication of the book.

Ken Wainstein:

But the judge had a hearing and then decided that, as he said, the horse was already out of the barn and there was no way to stop the publication, books had already been pre-positioned all around the world for distribution, so it was a done deal. But the litigation seeking the proceeds of the book is still going forward, and so we’ll be able to monitor that as it goes forward and that’ll end up dissecting the pre-publication review process in this case.

Ken Wainstein:

I think there’ll be a good bit of discussion about the balancing between first amendment right to tell your experiences, to share your insights about the highest levels of government, which of course is a critical piece of our democracy. That transparency is key against the government’s legitimate need to protect secrets and to bind people to keep those secrets if they’re going to be entrusted with these high level positions in government.

Lisa Monaco:

Hey, just on aside here, Ken. I don’t know what you thought about that, but when I read that piece in the opinion from Judge Lamberth who you and I know a little bit where he said the horses out of the barn in this litigation already, I heard his Texas roots coming through in that opinion, I don’t know if that was your reaction.

Ken Wainstein:

Oh, he’s a Texas man through and through and he also knows about what he ruled on here. He’s got deep experience with intelligence matters. He was the chief judge of the FISA court for Intelligence Surveillance Court and has worked in… Had been in the national security trenches for decades, and so he knows this area.

Lisa Monaco:

And that also came through when he said as you rightly laid out, Ken, he acknowledged the practical reality, the horse is out of the barn, the book had been published, it was already distributed, there’s no getting that back. But he also had some stern words in that opinion for John Bolton. He said that he thought he had “gambled” with U.S. national security by pursuing the process the way he did.

Lisa Monaco:

So not an entire win here for Bolton in large measure, yes in terms of that, but definitely some stern words from Judge Lamberth in some of that opinion.

Ken Wainstein:

Well, it’d be interesting to monitor how the litigation goes and it’ll be part of the ongoing calibration between protection of government secrets and first amendment that plays out in many ways and will probably continue to play out as I’m sure we’re going to see more kiss and tell books in the future. Let’s move on to another topic that’s in the headlines and justifiably so, and that’s where we are on COVID-19.

Ken Wainstein:

I think last time we podcasted, Lisa, there might well have been some hope that there was going to be a flattening of the curve and diminution of new cases. It looks like that hasn’t come to pass and instead we’re seeing spikes all over the United States and in some ways, even more troubling seeing that we’re way outpacing most of the rest of the world in new cases and sadly in new deaths from COVID-19.

Ken Wainstein:

So I guess my question to you harking back to your experience dealing with Ebola and just your observations since COVID came to our shores earlier this year, why do you think we’re seeing this uptick in new cases?

Lisa Monaco:

It makes sense to talk about this now because it continues to be very much with us. Quite obviously, we’re surpassing three million cases in the United States and over 130,000 deaths and it’s just continues to be incredibly sobering numbers that we’re confronting. And as you said, we’re experiencing a surge yet again. There’s been lots of debate as I’m sure you’ve been following, Ken that oh, are we in a second wave? Well, as Tony Fauci has recently said, we are still knee-deep in the first wave.

Tony Fauci:

We are still knee-deep in the first wave of this, and I would say this would not be considered a wave, it was a surge or resurgence of infections superimposed upon a baseline, Francis that really never got down to where we wanted to go.

Lisa Monaco:

We’re seeing daily records for new cases, I think I checked this morning up 72%. And of course, Florida, Texas, Arizona are now hitting daily records in their new cases. So why are we experiencing or having such a different experience than other countries? I think it boils down to a few things. One is, we have not had really, I think it’s fair to say a national strategy. We’ve had a patchwork approach with some guidelines being issued by the federal government and certainly some resources being provided.

Lisa Monaco:

Although I think there’s a fair argument to be made that it is absolutely not been sufficient. We’ve talked before, Ken about the failure to fully embrace and fully activate the Defense Production Act, the failures in testing starting at the very beginning of all this and that proving to continue to be a problem. But at the end of the day, there’s been a philosophical approach, I think that this is going to be “left to the States.”

Lisa Monaco:

And so as a consequence, we’ve seen a very piecemeal and patchwork approach, and what we’re seeing now, I believe is a result of that patchwork approach. So really the States that moved quickly and aggressively, and shut down early, and moved off of those restrictions in a gradual way, driven by very specific metrics, those States by and large are keeping a handle on new cases and assurgent new cases.

Lisa Monaco:

In contrast, those States that delayed shutting down, delayed putting in place mitigation measures, and then moved very rapidly and quickly to move off of any restrictions that were put in place and “to reopen,” and took this as a light switch approach as opposed to a gradual approach, those are the places that by and large are seeing the surges that we’re seeing now. So I think it comes down to not having a national strategy and not having very clear, consistent messaging on the things that we as a citizenry need to be doing.

Lisa Monaco:

And unfortunately, having these issues that really should be public health areas of consensus, things like wearing a mask, having those now just become culture war items, and becoming very polarized.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. That’s actually the thing that’s been frankly surprising for me. And look, I’m as cynical and realistic about the polarized time that we’re living in. But look, in the past public health issues or natural disasters have not been politicized, at least not when you’re going through them. And you can see that PEPFAR, the President Bush’s effort against AIDS in Africa and dealing with malaria. These were issues that there has been generally bipartisan support.

Ken Wainstein:

Here however, it seems like everything’s looked at through the lens of politics. And so you now have what is a public health and scientific issue being dealt with politically. And if you look around the world, you pointed out where the hotspots are and how they correspond to States that did or didn’t take the necessary measures or show enough discipline. We’re seeing that with other governments, other countries. The South Koreas of the world that really were disciplined about this, they’re dealing with the COVID-19 very effectively.

Ken Wainstein:

But in these countries, you’re not seeing the debate about what measures should be taken, then I could seen them that debate play out. There’s a balancing, no question, but it’s not a long political lines, and here we’ve seen that. We’ve automatically shifted from a discussion of what makes most sense. And there’s a legitimate debate to be had about how much risk we should take on in order to open up the economy to a certain amount. There’s a balance there and everybody can have their views about it, but for some reason, that’s now shifted into political terrain.

Ken Wainstein:

And therefore you have people taking positions for political reasons that might not actually be the best for public health. And I think that’s what’s distinguishing us from other countries around the world that are handling this much better.

Lisa Monaco:

Yeah. Look, I think you can boil it down to the following where the action has come early, it’s been aggressive and has been driven by science and public health expertise. I think you’ve seen better results than those places where the interventions were late. They were halting and they have resulted in a polarized and politicized approach. I think those are the fault lines really that we’re dealing with.

Lisa Monaco:

But one thing I think we should just mention, Ken is the news that is just in the last day or so that the United States is now making good on its previous pledge to pull out of the World Health Organization. That’s a big deal in my view, as somebody who worked on the Ebola epidemic when I was in the Homeland Security advisor role for President Obama and we were dealing with their Ebola.

Lisa Monaco:

There’s lots to be said about some of the failings of the World Health Organization, but to have the United States pulling out of it at a time in the middle of this global pandemic, it’s a move that is being met with pretty widespread derision and it’s really concerning when you think about, I’ve likened it to pull in the fire hose out from the hands of the fireman in the middle of the fire.

Ken Wainstein:

Right? And I agree, I think everybody recognizes that maybe the WHO didn’t handle things perfectly throughout, and there were some missteps, especially early on, especially its willingness to accept the explanations it was receiving from China early on in the pandemic. No question, but it is the organization that we have, it’s the organization we’ve had for decades that has played a vital role in dealing with international public health issues.

Ken Wainstein:

And in the middle of this pandemic, we don’t want to be distancing ourselves from the rest of the world and their public health efforts. It also raises the larger question about our decision in a number of ways to scale back our involvement in multinational organizations, which I think is unfortunate. I think there’s much room for reform, whether it’s our role in NATO, the respective burdens that are born by different countries in NATO or the WHO or any of these multinational organizations.

Ken Wainstein:

But I think the first effort when we see a problem like that should be to reform this situation, reform the organization, fix the situation, not withdraw. I think ultimately that isn’t what we’ve done since World War II and our involvement in these organizations has really added to our national security in fundamental ways.

Lisa Monaco:

Yeah. We should just mention, I totally agree with you that the there’s plenty of work to do and there’s fair criticism to be had about how the WHO, the World Health Organization has handled the coronavirus pandemic. It was slow, I think, to respond on Ebola, but at the end of the day, this is a international organization. It’s created, I think in 1948 if I’m not mistaken at the UN, and it does have a track record of really making a difference.

Lisa Monaco:

Most notably in eradicating smallpox between 1958 and 1978, I believe. The WHO is larger credited with creating a campaign to eradicate smallpox first time something like that was done. So I think it’s really worth having the United States involved and using its influence, using its funding, using its power to influence, and improve, and reform an organization that needs it, not walking away and being on the outside looking in.

Ken Wainstein:

So much more to come sadly about this pandemic, is not going to win anytime soon. And I think we need to be looking at what’s been done in the past, and then what we’re hopefully building toward for the future because this is not the last pandemic that we’re going to deal with. So we’ll keep monitoring the situation.

Lisa Monaco:

Ken, before we go, I know we’re running out of time here. I know something that you and I both really want to do on this podcast is try and highlight the people and the functions in national security that sometimes don’t get the attention that they deserve, and particularly in a world that is constantly responding to shifting headlines, and tweets, and news popups on your phone. I think it’s important to highlight and do frankly a bit of a shout out to the roles in national security that are working and the people who are working to keep us safe, and doing so sometimes under considerable strain.

Lisa Monaco:

My nominee for our first shout out, if you will, or calling out what I would call unsung heroes in the national security apparatus. I would, and we mentioned this earlier in the podcast, the function of the President’s Daily Brief. I think we should recognize the staff that puts that briefing together, that puts that product together, not just for the president, but for the National Security Advisor, the Homeland Security Advisor, the role that you and I had as well as a host of other national security officials across the government.

Lisa Monaco:

And they do it 24/7 and are working overnight, literally overnight to put that intelligence product together. And these are people who aren’t getting headlines and aren’t getting attention, at least not usually. And I think it’s worth acknowledging the work that they do.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. And I think just the general idea of doing this on a regular basis, every time we have a podcast is important because the government is full of unsung heroes, people that we take for granted who do exceptional work and sacrifice a lot. And because it’s just they’re civil servants, they don’t go out and tout what they do, the rest of the government doesn’t tout what they do. And so unfortunately, those contributions are often overlooked.

Ken Wainstein:

So I love doing that and I can’t think of a better first candidate than the PDB staff, just to keep in mind what they do every day. They run an incredible process that gets the intelligence from all over the intelligence community, collected from all over the world, through all different types of collection, human intelligence, signals intelligence, everything under the sun. It all gets brought in and synthesized.

Ken Wainstein:

It then gets distilled down into a briefing document, a concise briefing document that lays out the highest priority threats, the most important intelligence and is laid out in a concise, informative way that very busy policy makers like the president and the Homeland Security Advisor, National Secured Advisor, and heads of agencies can digest and understand the policy implications of that intelligence.

Ken Wainstein:

And that’s done in a 24-hour cycle every day, and it’s done overnight because that’s when it’s all collected, and it’s produced first thing in the morning to be read by the consumers. And it’s an incredible exercise. It’s an amazing enterprise, and the fact that it’s done and done so well, and you and I can both speak to that having been a consumer of that intelligence document for many years, it’s a real testament to the quality and caliber of the people on that PDB staff. So shout out to them.

Lisa Monaco:

Yeah. And I’d just like to, hopefully they’re listening, but the intelligence briefers I had assigned to me over my many years of service, just like to thank them for the work that they did and the fact that they greeted me with a smile every morning when they handed me that book or that tablet later on. Which didn’t always have good news, very rarely had good news, but they were always exceptionally professionally capable in answering questions and following up. So thank you to my intelligence briefers over the years.

Lisa Monaco:

Well, that’s all the time we have for today, Ken. I know we’ll be back in two weeks.

Ken Wainstein:

Yep. And in the meantime, just remind our listeners, please send us any questions that you might have to [email protected] and we’ll do our very best to answer them in the next episode.

Lisa Monaco:

Till next time.

Ken Wainstein:

That’s it for this week’s United Security Podcast. Your hosts are Lisa Monaco and Ken Wainstein. The executive producer is Tamara Sepper, the editorial producer is Jennifer Indig, the audio producer is Nat Wiener. The associate producer is David Kurlander and the CAFE team is David Tatasciore, Matthew Billy, Sam Ozer-Staton, Noa Azulai, Calvin Lord, Geoff Isenman, Chris Boylan, Sean Walsh, and Margot Malley.

Preet Bharara:

I hope you found Lisa and Ken’s conversation informative. Lisa and Ken will continue to break down politically charged national security news making the headlines and we hope you will follow along. Try the CAFE Insider membership now free for two weeks. To join, head to cafe.com/insider. That’s cafe.com/insider. To all our Insiders, thank you for supporting our work.