• Transcript
  • Show Notes

On this special episode of the United Security podcast, Ken Wainstein interviews former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Matt Olsen. Ken and Olsen first met during their undergraduate careers at the University of Virginia, and went on to work together closely in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and at Main Justice. 

Olsen reflects with Ken about his diverse work during the Obama administration, from his overview of the Guantanamo Bay detainee transfer process, to his position as General Counsel to the National Security Agency, and his reflections on the character and priorities of President-elect Biden. 

This podcast is produced by CAFE Studios. 

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

REFERENCES & SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS 

  • Kate Conger, “Uber Picks N.S.A. Veteran to Fix Troubled Security Team,” New York Times, 8/14/2018
  • Daniel Klaidman’s Tom Cruise comparison is from Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency, HMH Books, 2012

U.S. ATTORNEY’S OFFICE

  • Arthur Santana and Neely Tucker, “D.C. Gang Members Convicted In Killings; ‘Murder Inc.’ Trial Lasted Eight Months,” Washington Post, 1/10/2003
  • Carol D. Leonnig, “Special D.C. Legal Unit to Focus on Terrorism,” Washington Post, 8/4/2005

ROBERT MUELLER AND THE FBI 

  • Billy Kenber, “Outgoing Director Robert S. Mueller III tells how 9/11 reshaped FBI mission,” Washington Post, 8/22/2013
  • Mark Mazzetti and Katie Benner, “Mueller Played by the Rules. Trump Made New Ones,” New York Times, 5/31/2019
  • Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, DNI.gov
  • “The WMD Commission Report,” FAS.org, 2/6/2004
  • Martin Chulov and Helen Pidd, “Curveball: How US was duped by Iraqi fantasist looking to topple Saddam,” The Guardian, 2/15/2011
  • Dan Froomkin, “All About the WMD Commission,” Washington Post, 2005

FISA

  • Kenneth L. Wainstein Sworn in as First Assistant Attorney General  for the National Security Division,” DOJ.gov, 9/28/2006
  • “Department of Justice to Create National Security Division,” DOJ.gov, 3/13/2006
  • James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, “Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts,” New York Times, 12/16/2005
  • “National Security Division Launches New Office of Intelligence,” DOJ.gov, 4/30/2008
  • “Unclassified Report on the President’s Surveillance Program,” DNI.gov, 7/10/2009
  • Charlie Savage, “Government Releases Once-Secret Report on Post-9/11 Surveillance,” New York Times, 4/24/2015
  • Ken and Olsen testify about FISA before the Senate Judiciary Committee, C-SPAN, 5/10/2016
  • Eric Lichtblau, “Deal Reached in Congress to Rewrite Rules on Wiretapping,” New York Times, 6/20/2008
  • “H.R.6304: FISA Amendments Act of 2008,” Congress.gov, 7/10/2008
  • “Section 702 Oveview,” DNI.gov

GUANTANAMO REVIEW

  • “Attorney General Appoints Executive Director to Lead New Task Force on Review of Guantanamo Bay Detainees,” DOJ.gov, 2/20/2009
  • “United States Transfers Two Guantanamo Detainees to Foreign Nations,” DOJ.gov, 6/11/2009
  • Dafna Linzer, “Review of Gitmo Detainees Has Been Slow and Complex,” ProPublica, 6/26/2009
  • “The man who decides the fate of Guantanamo detainees,” BBC News, 1/17/2010
  • David Johnston, “Uighurs Leave Guantánamo for Palau,” New York Times, 10/31/2009
  • Jason Breslow, “Matt Olsen: ‘Politics’ Kept Guantanamo Open, ‘Not National Security,’” PBS Frontline, 2/21/2017

NSA AND NCTC

  • Mark Hosenball, “Obama Administration Appoints New General Counsel for NSA,” Newsweek, 6/10/2010
  • “President Obama Announces Intent to Nominate Matthew Olsen as Director of the National Counterterrorism Center,” WhiteHouse.gov, 7/1/2011 
  • “NCTC History,” DNI.gov
  • Danny Yadron, “Ex-NSA Chief’s Cybersecurity Startup Draws Funding,” Wall Street Journal, 10/25/2015

BIDEN

  • Peter Bergen, “Can Joe Biden Clean Up the Mess?” CNN, 11/7/2020
  • Photo of Vice-President Biden at the 10th anniversary of NCTC, DNI Twitter, 8/28/2014

How did 9/11 transform national security? And where do we go from here?

Close friends Ken Wainstein and Matt Olsen, who met in the early 1980s as undergraduates at the University of Virginia, talk through Olsen’s fascinating career, from his days working with Ken at the U.S. Attorney’s office for the District of Columbia, to his leadership of the difficult Guantanamo Review Task Force, to his eventual directorship of the National Counterterrorism Center. In addition to sharing their inside knowledge about the evolution of the national security space, the duo also break down the complicated craft of criminal investigations, foreign and domestic. Most importantly, Ken grills Olsen on his resemblance to superstar actor Tom Cruise.

 

Ken Wainstein:

From CAFE, this is United Security. I’m Ken Wainstein. Hello folks. This is Ken Wainstein from United Security. Today we have another special interview. As you recall, four weeks ago we did an interview with John Brennan, the former CIA director. And today, we have Matt Olsen. Matt is the former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, and he’s here today to talk to us about his career in national security. Good to see you Matt. How are you today?

Matt Olsen:

I’m good. It’s great to be here Ken. Thanks for having me.

Ken Wainstein:

Absolutely. It’s our pleasure. Today, as I said, we’re going to talk about your career in national security, what you’ve done, what trends you’ve seen over the years that you’ve been working in the vineyards of national security. But why don’t you start off by telling us what it is you’re doing now. What job have you landed at at this point?

Matt Olsen:

So yeah, I left the government six years ago, just over six years ago in 2014, and I am now at Uber. I am the Chief Trust and Security Officer at Uber. I have responsibility for their cybersecurity program as well as physical security, and law enforcement interaction and investigations. So it’s been a significant transition. A lot of times I am asked about the transition from government, where I had spent 24 years in a number of different roles, to the hurly-burly world of Silicon Valley and technology companies. But yeah, no. It’s been terrific. Uber is a great company and I’ve enjoyed it.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. And the hurly-burly world of a technology company in the middle of a pandemic. I assume that’s been a special challenge.

Matt Olsen:

Yeah absolutely. I mean, not unique to Uber. We’re all going through it together. But it’s a special challenge in a sense that at least for me and our team, we had to help transition the company from everyone being together in the workplace, to everybody trying to work at home. One of the challenges there was just, how do you do that with thousands and thousands, tens of thousands of employees who are now working at home, and make sure they’re able to work securely over their laptops, as opposed to an office environment.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. Sounds like you have your work cut out for you. So look, we can go on for a whole podcast just about that, but let’s rewind and go back in time a little bit. And I actually think before we proceed, we should probably, as a matter of full disclosure, explain to our listeners that we’ve known each other for a while. Do you remember when we first met?

Matt Olsen:

Yeah of course. And I totally agree. It’s something that would be a conspicuous omission if we didn’t tell folks that we went to college together, have known each other since second year at the University of Virginia.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah, since 1981, when I had a cheesy 1980s mustache. You had your hair parted in the middle, a lot like John Travolta.

Matt Olsen:

I had hair. So that was… I would trade my current situation for a middle part any day.

Ken Wainstein:

So we go back quite a long way. And I guess we could tell stories about our times together in college, but probably that wouldn’t be appropriate. I think we’ll stick with national security. So it’s been great actually traveling the career path with you over these years. So why don’t I just give a capsule summary. Or even better, why don’t you give us a capsule summary of the places you’ve been in government. You graduated from UVA, then graduated from Harvard Law School, clerked in the DC District Court, same time I did, and then you went to a law firm for a short stint, and then you entered DOJ. So why don’t you just walk us through where you’ve been, and then we’ll go back and look at each stage of your career in more depth.

Matt Olsen:

Sure. And I appreciate the opportunity to talk about the work I did, and the opportunities I had, do tend to provide a framework or opportunity to talk about some of the issues that are more interesting than my career, really. It’s the issues and the challenges that we faced, that I think are so interesting. But the other thing, Ken, is not only did we go to college together, but our time as government employees and Justice Department, in particular, employees, has been intertwined as well. So it’s not like we went to college together and then separated and we’re coming together today for the podcast, obviously.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. So I might know large parts of the story. So I might just get up and get a beer while you’re talking. I hope you understand.

Matt Olsen:

Yeah. You know all of this. So I entered the Justice Department in the Civil Rights division in the voting section. I was really interested in working on voting cases and civil rights in particular. I spent a couple years doing that. And then I went over to the US Attorney’s office in DC, where I spent 12 years. Did a lot of different types of work in the US Attorney’s office, from drug cases to homicide cases to gang cases to public corruption cases. But I also spent a couple years during that time on detail to the FBI, working for director Mueller in 2004 and 2005. It’s really that experience that put me on the path more of working in national security, and I worked in a number of roles in the Justice Department.

Ken Wainstein:

So one of the themes I think that your career illustrates is the intersection of law enforcement operations and national security operations that we’ve seen over the last 20 years or so. So you start out as a federal prosecutor doing federal crimes as well as the regular street level crimes that you prosecuted in the DC US Attorney’s office, because unlike other US Attorney’s offices, DC office is both the federal prosecutor as well as the local prosecutor. So you’re doing meat and potatoes criminal prosecutions, and then you progress into the national security space. And so in some ways you actually have lived the intersection of law enforcement and national security, like others, like myself, and like Lisa Monaco, who as you know is the other half of this podcast. And by the way, she sends her best and her regrets that she couldn’t be here today.

Ken Wainstein:

But that, I think, is an interesting intersection, and I think it’s important for people to understand how law enforcement and national security operations were relatively distinct operations within our government prior to 9/11. Distinct both operationally in terms of personnel being devoted to the two different disciplines, and culturally. Want to speak to that for a minute, and then you can speak to how that changed after 9/11.

Matt Olsen:

Yeah absolutely. It’s a great observation. And I think you’re right that Lisa, for sure, and you and I lived this experience of the intersection of law enforcement and national security. We have similar backgrounds, having been prosecutors and then transitioned to the national security world. And it’s like a lot of folks, Ken. 9/11 was a defining moment for so many Americans, so many people around the world. But for lawyers in the Justice Department, it became an imperative to see, how do you participate and contribute to this really such a substantial challenge, at that post-9/11 period. As you said, before 9/11, when we were prosecutors in the Justice Department, we didn’t really focus on national security. I mean there were a handful of cases involving terrorist attacks, some from the 70s and 80s, hijackings. But most of national security didn’t involve law enforcement. It did not involve prosecution, didn’t really involve law. I mean, if you look now at universities, I know you teach at Georgetown, a national security law class. When we were in law school-

Ken Wainstein:

As do you.

Matt Olsen:

And I do too. And when we were in law school, there were no national security law programs, or law journals. There was national security law class. That is such a major change now. We see lots and lots of interest, because this field of national security law largely developed after 9/11, in the crucible of the challenges posed by a terrorist attack inside the United States, on the scale of the 9/11 attacks. So we experienced, in realtime, that transition. You, particularly at the FBI, when the FBI was transitioning from its pre-9/11 posture to its post-9/11 posture as an organization focused on defending the country from a terrorist attack. And similarly, I had that experience at the FBI, and also within the national security division at Justice, how we were going to transition those organizations that had not traditionally prioritized national security into making them so that that was the number one priority for those organizations.

Ken Wainstein:

So I think one of the advantages that we have had is that we got a grounding back in the 90s, in building criminal cases. And the discipline of building a criminal case is different from the discipline of collecting and analyzing intelligence for purposes of advising policy makers. In the former, you’re putting together information that will hopefully develop into evidence that will then constitute sufficient basis to prosecute a case. In the latter, you’re pulling together information to try to give yourself a better understanding of the intelligence about a threat to the United States to advise policy makers. Two different disciplines, two different types of activity. But they draw on the same skills, the same general skillset. And so tell us just briefly the area that you focused on, you focused on developing sophisticated conspiracy cases against gangs, especially very violent gangs that were wreaking havoc on the streets of DC back in the 90s. And tell us about some of the skillsets that you and others really developed that were then helpful when you made that transition into intelligence or national security operations.

Matt Olsen:

Yeah I think that’s a great question, and I think it’s an important insight that you just provided that there’s real differences between law enforcement, criminal prosecutions, and national security and intelligence collection and analysis, important differences. But there are some really fundamental similarities. And the building blocks for both of those disciplines, both of those trade crafts, are very similar. So when I came up in the US Attorney’s office, one of the biggest cases I worked on was a gang case involving a violent street gang in Washington DC responsible for literally dozens of murders over the course of a decade. To make that case, required basically several years of investigation by the FBI and by the Metropolitan Police Department.

Matt Olsen:

But the techniques of that investigation, you can easily see how it looks like an intelligence investigation, or intelligence work. It was developing sources, getting to know exactly who had information about what was going on in those neighborhoods that were plagued by that gang. We had wiretaps. One of the building blocks of any intelligence investigation is surveillance, electronic surveillance. Well that was what we used in the criminal case. We used multiple wiretaps to listen in on their phone calls. Other ways of identifying things that they didn’t want us to learn about, watching them observation, search warrants. And ultimately, the analysis trade craft is where the similarities are the greatest, from the perspective of having been a prosecutor. That is, being able to judge information. How reliable is it? Who’s it coming from? Do they have a bias? Are they getting paid? Do they see themselves as part of one side or the other? Actually trying to build cooperation from an individual who’s not inclined to cooperate with the United States or with the prosecutor, getting their trust, offering them something that’s of value to them, typically leniency in a criminal case.

Matt Olsen:

And then being a really skeptical and practiced analysis. Having that ability to really analyze information very carefully to make sure that by the time you’re presenting it to a decision maker, in a criminal case that’s a jury, in an intelligence matter it’s a policy maker. But being prepared to stand behind your judgements to disclose weaknesses and be forthcoming about those. I mean those are skills that apply across the board to both law enforcement and intelligence matters.

Ken Wainstein:

Right. So I think historically, and we could do a whole podcast devoted just to this issue, but historically there was this sense that these were two distinct disciplines. People had skillsets that matched the demands of each discipline, and oftentimes the two never met, when in fact, I think when 9/11 happened and the laws changed that allowed and actually forced more coordination and integration between our law enforcement personnel, who at that time were focused on terrorists, who were looking for terrorists as possible defendants in criminal matters, coordination between those folks and also the intelligence officials who were looking at terrorist suspects as intelligence targets. The two of those groups were able to coordinate much better than I think people anticipated that they would because the skillsets they used really were the same skillset, just used for different purposes.

Ken Wainstein:

So that’s one of the reasons why I think the integration that we’ve seen since 9/11, what I think has been a pretty clear success story of the government being able to shift gears and really meet the national security needs of our country over the last 20 years. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve seen that success, I believe.

Matt Olsen:

I totally agree. And I think there has been a sense, I think historically, that these are two separate worlds. And 9/11 really compelled the CIA and the FBI and the Justice Department, and all these organizations, DOD, to confront this challenge of melding these two worlds. And now, if you talk to the CIA officers, or the FBI agents, who’ve worked counterterrorism since 9/11, they speak basically the same language. They have relationships that go very deep, and far beyond, I think, what people may have anticipated could’ve been achieved, right after 9/11 when there was this sense that these two organizations and these two worlds had not been sufficiently integrated and worked well enough together. And I think it is one of the lesser recognized successes of the post-9/11 period, is this breaking down of these barriers between these two worlds working in an integrated fashion, a coordinated fashion, to go after terrorists

Ken Wainstein:

Okay. So back to your personal story. So here it is, 2004, you’ve had great success with a number of our colleagues in putting together some of these gang cases that really rid the streets of DC of many serious violent gang members. And then you get talked into coming over to the FBI and be a counsel to Mueller. And as I recall, I might’ve had something to do that. I think I talked you into it and said, “We’re going to have a great time together.”

Matt Olsen:

Yeah my favorite part about this story is that this is actually May of 2004. I remember very well, Ken was Chief of Staff to Bob Mueller and said, “Why don’t you leave your nice supervisor job in the US Attorney’s office where you know everything, you’re very comfortable, and come over to the FBI where you know almost nobody. But don’t worry about. I’m here and I can help show you the ropes.”

Ken Wainstein:

I got your back.

Matt Olsen:

I literally… We didn’t work one day together. I started on a Monday at the FBI, the same day went back to become the US Attorney in DC. So I was completely on my own.

Ken Wainstein:

I bailed on you.

Matt Olsen:

And you bailed on me. And it wasn’t even the first time, and it wasn’t the last time, that you pulled that trick.

Ken Wainstein:

Totally guilty. So I left you there to face Bob Mueller all on your own, and the two of you guys became a great team. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you did. Once again, this was 2004, not that long after 9/11, and you came into the front office of the FBI. What as the Bureau focused on at that point?

Matt Olsen:

Yeah. It was a fascinating time to work at the FBI. It was laser-focused on counterterrorism, and Director Mueller focused like no one else can on the transformation of the FBI into a world-class national security organization. So among other things, the 9/11 Commission Report was issued while I was there, something you had worked on very closely and Director Mueller, I think, deserves the credit that he’s largely gotten for the way he handled the commission, and very open, very straightforward, owned up to the challenges within the FBI, the problems. But put forward a very compelling case to maintain the FBI as a unified crime fighting and national security organization, which was not an obvious conclusion that was going to be reached. There was a real conversation around breaking it apart.

Ken Wainstein:

Right. When the 9/11 Commission first kicked off, they were talking about breaking the FBI apart into a separate intelligence organization, and a separate crime fighting organization, which would’ve been devastating to the FBI, and really would’ve negated one of the great advantages of the FBI, which is that it can bring both intelligence and criminal tools to bear in the fight against foreign threats, like terrorists.

Matt Olsen:

Exactly. I mean just what we’ve been talking about, how those two worlds can be integrated if it’s done effectively. So that was in play, and then the 9/11 Commission Report came out while I was there, and so I was part of the response to that. And so I was part of the response to that with Director Mueller. And then the other big commission report was the WMD Commission Report came out. And also during that time, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was set up, the Intelligence Reform Act, Terrorism Protection and Reform Act, was passed in 2004. So all of these pretty significant events happened during my two years or so at the FBI, where the FBI was responding and driving, actually driving, a lot of that change with Director Mueller at the helm.

Ken Wainstein:

Let me ask about one thing you mentioned. You mentioned the WMD Report. That’s a bit of a misnomer. That’s the popular name for that effort, but it was the Robb-Silberman Report or Inquiry into our intelligence operations in the aftermath of what was perceived as an intelligence failure around the Iraq War, or that led to the Iraq War. The curveball information. And Judge Silberman and Senator Robb led a commission that went back and reviewed our intelligence operations. And I just raise this because it goes back to the blocking and tackling of information analysis that you described earlier, which is what is done both on the criminal side and on the national security side. And they had some very important recommendations, but one of them, to jump ahead in our story, was to create the National Security Division, which you and I ended up joining together.

Matt Olsen:

Yeah. It’s interesting because, you’re right, the WMD Commission focused on intelligence failures around the WMD in Iraq, but it really was much more profound and fundamental analysis of some of the challenges around intelligence, and intelligence failures. But one of the key points, I think, that goes forward to today is that intelligence needs to be nonpartisan, apolitical, and beyond the influence or pressure of politics. That’s something that I think has been an enduring challenge, right? When you talk about serious policy consequences to these intelligence findings. This is just something that I think it’s worth always bearing in mind, and that was part of what the WMD Commission looked at. But as you said Ken, it also one of the… I remember very well the WMD Commission report said that basically the entire US Government has reorganized around counterterrorism with the exception of one organization, and that’s the Department of Justice. Which still has its counterterrorism and national security organizations fragmented and separated into a number of different components of the department, and it’s time that that changed. And that led, as you said, to the creation of the National Security Division.

Ken Wainstein:

Right. So just to use as a pivot into the stage of your career. So the WMD Report recommended that the prosecutors, the criminal prosecutors within DOJ, who were prosecuting national security crimes like espionage and terrorism, international terrorism, they merge with the attorneys within the Justice Department who were working with the FBI agents to get FISAs, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act orders that allowed for surveillance on the intelligence side of the ledger. In other words, surveillances for intelligence investigations. The report recommended those two groups of DOJ attorneys should be in the same component, should be talking with each other, should be sharing information gleaned from intelligence investigations with information gleaned from criminal investigations, so that we can have a full picture of our adversaries.

Ken Wainstein:

And that, as you said, is the integrating of intelligence and law enforcement that had happened throughout the government, but ironically didn’t happen at DOJ until this recommendation was made. The president, accepted that recommendation, proposed it to Congress, and Congress passed the law in 2006 that stood up the National Security division. So when that law got passed, you were back at the US Attorney’s office. You and I were teamed up in the US Attorney’s office and you came in and headed up our new national security section wtihtin the US Attorney’s office, which was focusing on national security criminal cases. And then 2006, you and I got the nod to go over to NSD. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about the transition over to NSD and what kind of things we focused on, and how we were structured a little bit.

Matt Olsen:

It was a really amazing opportunity to go to Main Justice. Folks who are listening who know what it’s like to be a prosecutor in the US Attorney’s office, that’s really, you’re on the front lines. Or you’re out in the field and you have a lot of autonomy and it’s really a fantastic way to work as a prosecutor. But Main Justice is really responsible for more of the policy and coordination of what goes on around the country on behalf of the Justice Department. And the new National Security Division, Ken I think it was the first new division in decades. Maybe 40 years or something like that.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah I think it was like 50 years since the establishment of the Civil Rights Division, back in the 60s.

Matt Olsen:

Yeah. So now for the first time you have the stodgy and traditional Department of Justice, which has been resistant to that kind of organizational change for all those years, standing up a brand new division that was going to be at the center of a lot of activity at that time in government, which was the national security and counterterrorism mission. And there was an amazing set of attorneys, as you can imagine, who had been working and who had gone to work on these issues at Justice in the counterterrorism section, in the counterespionage section, and what was then known as the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, who the group of lawyers who handled all of the intelligence surveillance, or FISAs, that were being brought before the special court, the FISA court. And so anyway, all of these attorneys, which had been separated out in the old Department of Justice, were now brought together. And you and I, you as the new Assistant Attorney General for National Security, were helping to lead this major change at a time where there’s just a ton of focus on these issues in the government.

Ken Wainstein:

Right. So you headed up the group of attorneys who were working on the FISAs, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and working with the FISA court in terms of applying for surveillance authority, and obtaining court orders that allowed for that surveillance authority. And the Pat Roland, a good friend of ours, headed up the side of the National Security Division, NSD, that had the criminal prosecutors, who were actively prosecuting terrorism and espionage cases and the like. So there was a lot of activity on the FISA front in the years that you were in NSD. First thing I’d just like to ask you about is, as we walked in the door, there was a thing called the Terrorist Surveillance Program, and it was on its last legs, and something had to be done with it. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about that story?

Matt Olsen:

Folks who are listening may have heard, or know about the Terrorist Surveillance Program. This was a program that was put in place almost immediately after 9/11 involving essentially warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency, authorized by the president, and it was carried out outside of the framework of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a law that had been passed in 1978, to regulate the surveillance of US persons, essentially US citizens, for intelligence purposes. But in the context of the post-9/11 period, the president had made the decision to authorize surveillance of US persons in some cases, and others, but without going through the strictures and processes that had been set up under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Ken Wainstein:

And this electronic surveillance, like of phones and emails and the like, right?

Matt Olsen:

Exactly. This is electronic surveillance, or surveillance over phone and email. This was done in a highly classified manner. In fact, it was beyond the usual levels of classification. Very, very few people in the government knew about it. It went by a code name that, until 2013, we would never have been able to talk about on a podcast. And it certainly… I had been at the FBI, and I had been doing national security in the government, but I had not heard about it. So this was not a very well known program. It was really very closely held to just the operators who were running it, and a handful of lawyers in the Justice Department and at the White House. It was in, I think, December of 2005 that there was a New York Times story that disclosed the broad outlines of this program. And that disclosure led to, fair to say, pretty strong outcry from different quarters, from members of the press, from civil liberties groups, from privacy groups, from American citizens, who were concerned about this activity by the government, and that it was a overreach and possibly illegal.

Matt Olsen:

We didn’t really… No one asked us, I think, Ken, at least in the time of going into the National Security Division, whether we thought it was a lawful program or not. What they asked us to do was to take the program, at least the capacity or capabilities that it enabled, the types of surveillance that it enabled, and to look to bring it before the FISA court, to bring it in under the rubric of FISA. Or to try to get the law changed, FISA changed, in order to enable, again, the type of collection that was being carried out under the terrorist surveillance program.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. I think that’s fair. The marching orders were, “These surveillances, the surveillance authority that’s being exercised under the Terrorist Surveillance Program, is important for our national security. And it does not seem to be sustainable in the long run under the authority that the president had invoked with the Terrorist Surveillance Program right after 9/11.” And so it was our job to work with the Office of Legal Counsel within the Justice Department, to look into whether and how we can get it brought under FISA court authority, so that it was fully authorized and supervised by the FISA court, therefore being operated consistent with FISA, and therefore without any legal concern. And that was, I think, our first big mission. You took point on that, and I think in January the Attorney General was able to announce that any surveillances that had been conducted under the Terrorist Surveillance Program that were still ongoing, were now ongoing under the authority of the FISA court.

Matt Olsen:

Right. And this was something I did with a number of other really, really smart, talented folks within the National Security Division who really knew FISA very well, as they’d been working on FISA as a statute for many, many years, as well as some newcomers into the front office, Ken, who served with us in the front office of the National Security Division. But I think it’s important to understand, this was legal work that was on the cutting edge. We were trying to come up with legal theories that were largely untested, that we were putting forward to the FISA court, which itself is a court that meets typically almost exclusively in secret, in classified hearings. And we were interpreting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as well as the Fourth Amendment, and positing a theory that we were able to work with the judges on the FISA court, at least for a period of time, to successfully continue much of what had been done previously under the Terrorist Surveillance Program, but was now down under a very strict regiment of judicial oversight, and also Congressional oversight.

Matt Olsen:

All three bodies of government now, all three branches of government, now having a direct role in overseeing this activity. But as you know, this was not the endgame. The endgame was ultimately to see if there was a way to modify FISA in order to adjust the law to really bring it up to speed with changes in technology that had occurred over the past 20 years before.

Ken Wainstein:

Right. And I think it’s important for people to recognize that the reason for the Terrorist Surveillance Program to being with was the concern that the FISA statute that was passed back in 1978 was drafted in way that it was actually technology-dependent. It was drafted and its requirements were based on the technology that was being used for the communications that were to be surveilled. And of course technology changes by the day, and it had certainly changed dramatically from 1978 to 2001. And as a result of those changes, many more surveillances than Congress initially intended were now being brought under the terms of the FISA statute, and therefore were required the government to go to the FISA court to get approval to do the surveillances.

Ken Wainstein:

Whereas initially, when Congress passed FISA and passed it with the technology of the day, it was assuming that a good number of the surveillances that were being conducted in 2001 would not require the government to put together a 60-page application and go to the FISA court, but rather could just be done without court approval. Because of those changes in technology, when 9/11 happened and the government needed to really expand its surveillances to prevent the next wave of attacks that they expected from Al Qaeda, it just wasn’t doable because the government just didn’t have the bandwidth to put together all those applications. So the Terrorist Surveillance Program was the answer. It was to allow those surveillances to be done without going through the court process under a legal theory. But at the end of the day it circumvented the FISA process. But even once we got to the point in 2007 of bringing the surveillances of the Terrorist Surveillance Program under FISA court order, as you point out, the underlying problem was still there, the underlying problem with the FISA statute.

Ken Wainstein:

So next step for you was to focus on bringing to Congress a bill, or proposed legislation, that would fix FISA so that we didn’t get back to the same problem that necessitated the Terrorist Surveillance Program in the first place, which the government succeeded, or the executive branch and Congress, succeeded in doing when they passed the FISA Reform Act in the summer of 2008. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about the back and forth of Congress, and the creation of the FISA Reform Act.

Matt Olsen:

Again, this was the early days of the National Security Division, and really in some ways it’s exactly why the division was established, and that was to have a reservoir of expertise, legal, policy expertise, on these types of issues. So I was part of a team that was, at the time, briefing Congress, particularly the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, on how the law was being interpreted, the work we had done with the FISA court, and keeping them apprised of the aftermath of the Terrorist Surveillance Program and the way the court had gotten involved. But at the same time, making the case to members of Congress that the law, as you said Ken, the law was largely outdated. And as a consequence of its dependence on technology that was no longer really applicable to much of the types of communications that the government wanted to collect, the government was getting full FISA, essentially orders or warrants, for individuals who really weren’t necessarily entitled to that level of protection.

Matt Olsen:

So non-US citizens who were outside the United States, and who were communicating with other people, other non-US citizens outside the United States. So the argument that we brought to Congress was, “Let’s get back to the original intent of FISA. Let’s restore it to where it’s focused on the Fourth Amendment rights of US persons, and people in the United States, but allow the government to have more agility in conducting surveillance of people who aren’t entitled to those Constitutional protections of search and seizure, non US citizens who are having communications outside of the country.” Not that that would occur without some oversight, or some court involvement. We made a proposal that would involve the FISA court, and involve Congress in overseeing that program, but wouldn;’t require individualized court orders for every one of those efforts to conduct surveillance.

Matt Olsen:

And that was essentially the argument that we made, and that was successful. I mean there was really broad agreement in Congress that that made a lot of sense, and FISA was amended in 2008, and now sometimes you’ll hear it referred to as Section 7.02 of FISA, is the law that’s been really, I think, highly successful from a intelligence collection standpoint, but also successful from a privacy and civil liberties protection standpoint.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. So the FISA amendment is passed in the summer of 2008, and as you say it made that fix that was such a problem and had bedeviled the executive branch since 2001. Also it provided some more oversight and more protections, one example being that for the first time it imposed FISA obligations on US persons when they’re outside the country. So it actually increased FISA court authority and oversight in certain areas. And as you said, I think it was the shining example of how Congress, both parties, both side of the aisle, can work together, especially with it comes to national security, because this was a situation where this was not long after 9/11, and people still remembered the urgency of the need to track down the people who were responsible for 9/11, both to mete out justice but also to prevent the next attack.

Ken Wainstein:

And so members of both parties really rolled up their sleeves and worked together and came up with what was, I think, a very balanced piece of legislation. It was good for national security, and good for civil liberties. So I think that’s actually a very good example of Congress being able to address a national security need. So that passes in summer of 2008. The Bush Administration comes to an end pretty soon after that, and you end up being the Assistant Attorney General for National Security. And then soon after that, you get asked to deal with this one minor little issue that should be easy to solve, and that was to close Guantanamo. So why don’t you tell us about that issue and how you got the assignment to get Guantanamo closed.

Matt Olsen:

To be clear I was the Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security for just that period of time during the transition from the Bush Administration to the Obama Administration, because at the time, this is the tradition by the way in the Justice Department, probably I assume other departments where the senior career person… I was a career civil servant. But the senior career person keeps the lights on for that period of time between the appointment, the nomination and confirmation of a new political leader, because that position is a Senate confirmed job, the head of the National Security Division. So Obama is elected and comes into office, and I served as the Acting AAG.

Matt Olsen:

And I was effectively thinking about what was next for me, and I don’t know if this is a lesson, cautionary tale, or a tale that’s a positive one, but one of the biggest issues on the plate for President Obama and the new team was Guantanamo, and what to do wit the detainees there and the detention facility. In fact, if you recall Ken, that was a day one executive order for President Obama to close Guantanamo detention facility in one year. So in a need of a good job, I put my hand up to help work on that, and yeah I was asked by the new Attorney General, Eric Holder, to be his representative and to lead an inter-agency task force to review all of the cases of, at that time, 240 detainees who were detained at Guantanamo and figure out what we’re going to do with them. What’s the next step? Or what’s the disposition for those individuals given that the options were not great.

Matt Olsen:

At that point, and Ken you know this better than anyone because you worked on this at the end of the Bush years, how hard it was because there were 100s of detainees who had been at Guantanamo, but the time President Obama came into office, who had been released, transferred home. So we were down to 240 who, at that point, the government had struggled, really, to figure out if we’re going to keep them detained or release them.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. Just to preview what you ended up getting in your lap, toward the end of 2008, I spent a lot of my time when I was Homeland Security Advisor working with the authorities in Saudi Arabia and Yemen to try to repatriate the 90-odd Yemenis that were in Guantanamo. That was the biggest ethnic group that we had were all the Yemenis. And the problem was the Yemeni government didn’t have the facilities to house them, so we were trying to broker something with the Saudis. We thought we had something arranged, and then of course it fell apart at the last minute. And so yeah you ended up getting, was it 240… Or inheriting 240 detainees with the transition from the Bush to the Obama Administration and it was a tough nut to crack, to try to find a place where those people could go where we could ensure that they wouldn’t return to terrorism, and pose a threat to us. But at the same time, try to deal with this situation in Guantanamo, which everybody recognized was not sustainable.

Matt Olsen:

Yeah. That’s exactly right. And at the time that I took on this role, there had been a pretty strong consensus, political consensus and just within the government, within the executive branch, that, as you said Ken, it was not sustainable to continue to hold individuals at Guantanamo indefinitely, that there needed to be some solution that would involve prosecuting some of them, transferring some number, in some cases to countries that were not their home countries. And then there may be some number that would have to be continued to be held under the laws of war, which was the legal basis for detention for some period of time. But there was a general, I think, as I said, consensus that this was a path that we needed to take as a country.

Ken Wainstein:

So you undertook the review the files of all the 240-odd detainees that were still there. And then came up with dispositions for each of them, and then by the end of your time on that project, you got the number down significantly didn’t you?

Matt Olsen:

Yeah. Yeah I mean it’s funny. Let me just take a step back, because you said take the files and review the files. There were no real files. There was information spread out across the government on the detainees generally. A lot of it was at the Defense Department, but a lot of it was in the intelligence agencies, the Justice Department, State Department. The whole process started with trying to pull together information on, who were these 240 individuals? Who could we safely transfer back to their home country? Who could we send to a third party country where we might have concerns about repatriation, because in some cases some of the detainees would be subject to persecution if they went to their home country. The Uyghurs in China were a very good example of that.

Matt Olsen:

In some cases, we were going to look to prosecute detainees. And there were actually ongoing criminal investigations within the Justice Department of some of them, and we had to view that there could be more of those, and they could prosecuted in the United States, or in the military commission that had been set up at Guantanamo. And as I said, a number, we were concerned may have to be held because they couldn’t be transferred safely or prosecuted. So yeah, we started with 240. We transferred a fair number, but at this stage, I checked the other day, there’s only 40 detainees left at Guantanamo. So it’s really a relatively small number individuals, and so I know there was a big push at the end of the Obama Administration to move out as many as possible, and I think you’ll see continued effort on this going forward.

Ken Wainstein:

Okay. So after that you then get the nod to go over to be the General Counsel at the National Security Agency, where you’re the chief lawyer at the NSA that is just out in Maryland, and is a member of the intelligence community. So why don’t you just give us a couple minutes about what your role was out there, what the challenges of being a lawyer in an intelligence agency like the NSA, and how that’s different from being a lawyer in DOJ, which is a department and culture of lawyers.

Matt Olsen:

Yeah. So that’s a great question, and that’s the main difference. You put your finger on it. I went from an organization where it was all about being a lawyer, the organization existed because of lawyers. That’s the Department of Justice. To an organization, a vast organization, the National Security Agency, made up of computer scientists and mathematicians and analysts, a totally different set of skills with a small legal office that I oversaw with about 100 lawyers whose job it was, fundamentally, to make sure that everything the NSA did was consistent with the laws of the United States.

Matt Olsen:

And at first I wasn’t sure if we were going to be looked as maybe the adversary within the walls of the NSA, because there was going to be times when, as a lawyer, as the general counsel, I’d have to tell the director of NSA, or others, “No you can’t do this because it would be contrary to what the law requires.” But the opposite was actually true. The culture of NSA is one of profound adherence to rules, and desire to stay on the right side of the law and the rules. And so my job, I often found, was more trying to be clear about explaining what the laws were so that people could follow them. And having to do that, honestly, in a legal environment where sometimes the law is not that clear, as we’ve talked about with FISA. There are times when the law, it’s subject to interpretation, or it’s actually changing. It could be quite dynamic. So what it meant a year ago might be different next year.

Matt Olsen:

So I found the hardest part was talking to operators at the NSA who’d say, “Hey, just tell me where the line is. I’ll make sure I stay on the right side of the line and that’s all I want to know.” And I’d have to sometimes give less than definitive answers to that question and I think that’s part of the challenge of being a lawyer in an intelligence agency.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah that’s an interesting observation, and I think people who spent time dealing with legal issues in the intelligence context grow to value clarity, that what operates really want is they just want to know where the line is. Less concern with what latitude that line allows them. They just want to know where the line is. And when there’s either an absence of a line, or the line is blurred or hard to place, that actually causes them to be cautious, and to step back from the whole range of where that line might be, which is bad for national security, right? You don’t want them going over the line. That’s bad for Constitutional concerns and people’s privacies and civil liberties, but you also don’t want them staying way shine of the line because that’s going to mean there’s a whole range of activity that could be helpful to national security that they’re not undertaking.

Ken Wainstein:

And that’s what happens when the law isn’t clear. Some of that is just inherent in the application of law to national security operations and the vagaries of national security operations. But some of it also the fault of legislation and rules, and that’s, as we said earlier, one of the things we were dealing with with FISA, one of the problems, one of the reasons why that example you used where we night have to get a FISA to surveil somebody who’s a foreign person in a foreign country, who’s communication with another foreign person in another foreign country. We would have to still go to the FISA court, that’s because the law wasn’t clear enough. And so there are real life consequences to that lack of clarity, and so I see how you would have that special challenge when you’re the one who’s across the table from the operators who are saying they need you to do something for national security, and they want to know exactly what they can do, and can’t do. And tough position to be in. That’s why you need experienced people in those jobs.

Matt Olsen:

Yeah. I mean I think that’s right. And I’ve talked to a lot of attorneys in national security agencies over the years, and it’s just a common challenge. I mean actually, it can be really rewarding. I think one of the things that I’ve found to be useful was to consider yourself as a lawyer as part of a team. You’re on the team with the operators, with the leaders of the organization. You share a common set of objectives. You bring a certain discipline to the discussion, and a certain ability to contribute around, “Okay here’s my assessment of where that line is, what you can do.” There’s a risk to saying, “No you can’t do it,” and just putting down a firm line, if there’s some room.

Matt Olsen:

And there’s obviously, of course, a risk if you say, “Yes. You can take a certain action,” if it’s close to the line. So having strong sense of collaboration with the operators. So they’re also very trustful of your and open with you about exactly the activity they’re going to engage in. I mean I felt like that was a way to reconcile this tension where you really are having to be as clear as possible in a landscape that is often murky when it comes to cutting edge national security activities.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. I think the team analogy is just the right one, because you and the operators want the same things, right? You want to facilitate whatever steps can be taken to ensure national security, but at the same time you don’t want to be going across the line, and that’s the right mindset to have on both sides, both on the operators side and the lawyers side, that you’re all part of the same team with the same objective. So let’s jump over to your last post in government, and just quickly address the National Counterterrorism Center. You were nominated and confirmed as the Director of the NCTC, the National Counterterrorism Center. That was a new creation. Just take a minute, tell us where the NCTC came from, what it’s purpose was, and maybe a taste of what it was like running that shop.

Matt Olsen:

NCTC, the National Counterterrorism Center, was created after 9/11. It was established in 2004. But it really was born of this fundamental observation about the failure of the government to work with unity of effort around counterterrorism. So 9/11, among other reasons that we failed to stop that attack, one of them was that there really wasn’t robust information sharing. Particularly this line that we’ve talked about a number of times, Ken, over the course of this conversation, between the national security time, intelligence side, and the law enforcement side. So the FBI and CIA both had information about the 9/11 hijackers, but I think it’s fair to say that we didn’t share that information effectively.

Matt Olsen:

And so the 9/11 Commission came out in 2004 and recommended that an NCTC be established, that would be a hub or clearinghouse for all terrorism information and analysis. So it could sit on that domestic and foreign divide, have authority to look at information that related to terrorism, regardless of whether it was collected in the United States or overseas. So really obliterate that distinction between the foreign and the domestic in the context of counterterrorism, so that we would be in our best position to prevent another attack carried out by people who had come into the United States with a purpose of killing Americans. So that was the genesis of the organization, and it grew over the course of a number of really amazing leaders from John Brennan to Scott Redd, and Mike Leiter. And I came in in 2011 to serve as the director of an organization, by the time I came in, that was really well positioned and established to carry out that mission.

Ken Wainstein:

Okay. So you were at NCTC then, I believe, until 2014. Is that right? Is that when you left government?

Matt Olsen:

Yeah. Yeah. Left in 2014.

Ken Wainstein:

Right. Left in 2014 after 20 some years, or whatever that was, in government. And then you were with a cybersecurity firm with General Keith Alexander, who was the NSA director when you were the General Counsel.

Matt Olsen:

That’s right. Yeah. I was just thinking back on having left government in 2014, how traumatic it was, Ken, when construction guys came into my house and removed the skiff from my attic, which became the sign that I had become a true insider in the national security world when I had a skiff. For those who are listening, that’s a facility, basically a room where I could have classified conversations, and I had a computer with access to classified systems.

Ken Wainstein:

And probably the only reason that your kids would tell their friends that you were cool, because you had a skiff.

Matt Olsen:

My youngest son, who was little at the time, was very… Yeah. He found it to be endlessly mysterious and interesting that there was this special room that he was not allowed to go in in the attic of our house. So yeah, they came and took that away, and with it my identity to some degree as a-

Ken Wainstein:

Your illusion of cool.

Matt Olsen:

Right. My illusion of cool. Yeah. So I joined with Keith Alexander, who had been the Director of NSA to help start a cybersecurity software company called IronNet Cybersecurity. It’s still doing great under General Alexander’s leadership. And I stayed there for about four years before going to Uber in 2018.

Ken Wainstein:

Okay. So let’s bring it up to today. You’re still with Uber, but you also have a little extracurricular activity. You’re on the President-Elect Biden transition team, right? For the intelligence community?

Matt Olsen:

Yes, I’m on one of the agency review teams.

Ken Wainstein:

So look, I’m not going to ask you questions about your transition activities today. I understand we shouldn’t be putting you on the spot about what’s happening with the transition now. But you’ve been through transitions in the past, in particular the one from Bush to Obama. So any lessons that you learned going through that last transition? Because as you said, you were the person who was heading up the National Security Division when the new team came in.

Matt Olsen:

Yeah. I think it’s a great question, and there’s a lot of folks in the government who have been through multiple transitions. It’s an amazing feature of our country and our government that four, eight years, power shifts from one president and one administration to another. And it’s something I think, as Americans, we can all be so proud of. And as a career DOJ person, in 2008, it was really interesting for me to sit in the room as we said goodbye to our colleagues who had been in political jobs, and we said hello to a new set of political leaders coming in from a different party. And we were very proud nonpartisan civil servants. It doesn’t matter what party you are. You’re coming in as the new leadership. We are going to support you.

Matt Olsen:

I would say one of the experiences I had at that time that I took with me going forward is that it’s really important for the new team coming in to understand that there may be political people at the top of these organizations who are going out, but there are people who have been there as career professionals who will stay there and will continue to be there whose job it was to carry out the mission of those departments and agencies everyday, and to really trust that they were nonpartisan, are nonpartisan. They are going to support whoever is in charge, and they’re going to follow that leadership. But they also have extraordinary experience and background that needs to be leveraged by the new team coming in. Not just leveraged, actually, but respected and acknowledged, and I think that’s a lesson I felt at the time in 2008 was really important that people looked at me in that way. “Tell us what’s been going on here at the Justice Department, and we trust you.” And something that I think is a lesson for anyone involved at any transition.

Ken Wainstein:

So from where you sat, how did you think that the transition went between the George W. Bush and Obama administrations?

Matt Olsen:

Well from where I sat it was great. I mean it was exactly as I think you would hope, where there’s new leadership coming in with new ideas. President Obama had campaigned on some changes, but you and I have talked about this too Ken. There was largely a fair amount of continuity between 2008 and 2009 on national security issues. Certainly there were some changes, like the Guantanamo review for example. That was a new initiative. It built on the work of the Bush Administration, but took it a step further in a way. And I do think that there was, at first, there’s a sense that the new team coming in is coming in with a lot of new ideas that are important, but we also, as career people, I think it was important that the new team listened to some of the challenges that we were facing. And again, respected the experienced that we had had.

Ken Wainstein:

We actually talked about this very issue when John Brennon and I had our conversation four weeks ago, and he actually took my position. I was the Homeland Security Advisor under Bush, he was the Homeland Security Advisor under Obama. So we had a transition from me to him, which was of course part of the broader Homeland Security and government transition across the board. And I think we agreed that it was a very smooth transition, largely because people on both sides did their utmost, and their absolute best, to try to ensure continuity, smoothness, lack of any disruptions in the handoff, and a respect for each other’s positions. And going into the process with a presumption of good faith on the part of each side.

Ken Wainstein:

And when I walked out of the White House at 2:00 on inauguration day and left the reins to John in the Homeland Security space, I felt like the whole experience really affirmed my belief in American democracy, because the government at every level was transitioning just the way the American people wanted it to. And I think my hope is that we’ll continue to see that, and our hope of course is that you will be seeing that in the handoff that’s coming on January 20 of next year.

Matt Olsen:

Yeah, totally agree Ken.

Ken Wainstein:

So when you were NCTC Director, you worked a lot at the White House. You briefed the president, you briefed the vice president, you got to know Joe Biden, who’s going to be our president. He’s somebody who got elected in large part on the basis of his experience, his ability to handle tough situations, a number of crises he’s gone through in his life and his ability to handle crises. Can you give us a little insight into what you saw when the vice president at the time, Joe Biden, was dealing with the type of crises that you were giving intelligence briefings on?

Matt Olsen:

Sure. As you said, so as the Director of NCTC, I had the opportunity, really the privilege, to be in The Situation Room briefing the National Security Counsel, often the president and the vice president, on counterterrorism issues and intelligence. Look, what I saw from then-Vice President Biden was somebody who was really steeped in an understanding of foreign affairs, foreign policy, and national security, cared deeply about American troops, and the deployment of American troops around the world, was a trusted partner, this came across often, of the president, somebody the president turned to, often at the end of the meeting last to get his counsel, and clearly had an extraordinarily strong and trusted relationship between the two.

Matt Olsen:

So I saw just an extraordinary leader on these issues in, again, then-Vice President Biden. I have to say, the other thing is that Vice President Biden came out to NCTC when we had our 10-year celebration, our 10-year anniversary in 2014, when I was still Director. And he was obviously the leading speaker at our day-long celebration. He spoke to our workforce in the auditorium. He spoke, as far as I could tell, without notes for maybe 30, 45 minutes. And he talked really about the workforce, talked to the workforce, about the work they do and why it was so important. And why they could’ve done so many different things with their careers, and they chose public service, and public service in national security. And he had just a remarkable impact on the workforce and the way he connected with them, and the way it was clearly a heartfelt sense of appreciation he had for their service. And I was so grateful to him for serving in that role at a time when we were celebrating the 10th anniversary of NCTC.

Ken Wainstein:

That’s a lovely anecdote, and those kind of appearances by the vice president or president mean so much to the folks who are in the trenches protecting our national security. So it means a lot that he did it, and did it with such sincerity. And your observations about him in The Situation Room, are consistent with the observations that we’ve heard from my colleague Lisa Monaco and others who worked closely with him, as somebody who really understands the intelligence world, understands the national security implications of any issue that he deals with, and I think those observations bode well for the coming years. So look, I think we probably ought to wrap up pretty soon, but oh there is one thing. We got a question from a curious listener that I think is important for me to raise with you.

Ken Wainstein:

And this listener was reading through a book the other day, and noticed a really interesting snippet that related to you. And this is a book written by a gentleman by the name of Daniel Klaidman and it’s called Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency. And this one snippet that the listener focused in on was one about a 47-year-old veteran prosecutor who happens to be you, who “Rose to the top of the Justice Department.” But I think the part that really caught his attention was this part that says about you, “Despite his thinning brown hair, Olsen had more than a passing resemblance to the actor Tom Cruise.” That’s the part that gets me. “He kept a basketball in his office, which he would roll around in his hands just as Cruise’s character had done with a baseball bat in the movie A Few Good Men. Olsen has a perfect choice for the Guantanamo job.”

Ken Wainstein:

So this listener was very curious about this, and I’m a little curious too because intelligence community officials are not usually the type of folks who get compared to movie stars. And so my question is, how did you get public this? How did you get such good pub? I never got anything like that? Is this guy on your payroll?

Matt Olsen:

It was actually an extraordinary observer, Dan Klaidman. Really a renowned and highly regarded journalist.

Ken Wainstein:

I’m just totally envious. The only part of that whole snippet I like is the part about the thinning brown hair. And so look, just in case you’re curious, the listener who posed that really important question, that listener was our very own Preet Bharara, and I think Preet probably wants to get this guy on his payroll.

Matt Olsen:

Yeah. Well Preet is a master himself, so we can all learn from him.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah, but probably hasn’t been compared to Tom Cruise. So you got that on all of us. So anyway, well done. So look, on that note, let me just say thanks, and thanks for being such a good friend over these many years, thanks for your service. I mean, just today’s session shows the level of service that you’ve given to this country and the amount of sweat, blood and tears that you’ve put into it and how much that’s meant to our national security. And then let me also say thank you for joining today. It’s been great talking to you, and I for one have learned a lot. And I’m confident that our listeners have as well.

Matt Olsen:

Great Ken. It’s been a real pleasure. It’s just terrific to talk to you. The feeling’s mutual. So thanks for having me.

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 Tamara Sepper. The senior producer is Adam Waller. The senior audio producer is David Tatasciore. And the CAFE team is David Kurlander, Nat Weiner, Matthew Billy, Sam Ozer-Staton, Noa Azulai, Jake Kaplan, Calvin Lord, Geoff Isenman, Chris Boylan, Sean Walsh, and Margot Maley. And our music is by Alison Leighton-Brown. Thank you for being part of the CAFE insider community.