The Lawfare Podcast

Laura Rosenberger is the director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy and a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. She was foreign policy advisor for the Hillary Clinton campaign four years ago, where she had to respond to Russian information operations against the campaign in real time. She has been working on combating foreign interference in U.S. domestic politics ever since, and she is the author of two recent significant articles—one in Foreign Affairs and one on Lawfare—both on the subject of foreign influence operations and interference in U.S. politics. She joined Benjamin Wittes to discuss the strategic purpose of these operations, whether we have to fear more operations during or after the election, and if U.S. voters should have confidence in their system.

Direct download: Laura_Rosenberger_on_Foreign_Interventions_on_US_Campaigns.mp3
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On this episode of Lawfare's Arbiters of Truth series on disinformation, Evelyn Douek and Quinta Jurecic spoke with Casey Newton, veteran Silicon Valley editor for The Verge who recently went independent to start a newsletter on Substack called Platformer. Few people have followed the stories of platforms and content moderation in recent years as closely and carefully as Casey, so Evelyn and Quinta asked him about what’s changed in the last four years—especially in the lead-up to the election. They also spoke about the challenges of reporting on the tech industry and whether the increased willingness of platforms to moderate content means that the name of this podcast series will have to change.

Direct download: Casey_Newton_on_Four_Years_of_Platform_Chaos.mp3
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There is a human rights crisis going on in the Chinese province of Xinjiang. The Chinese government has been rounding up minority groups, most notably the Uighurs, and putting them into forced labor and reeducation camps. The government has gone to great lengths to keep Xinjiang away from international attention, and it has had some success in doing so. Jordan Schneider, the host of the ChinaTalk podcast, wrote an essay on Lawfare last week outlining how the U.S. can respond and push back on the Chinese government's abuses in the region. During a live event for ChinaTalk, Lawfare's Jacob Schulz talked through Xinjiang and potential U.S. responses with Schneider and Sheena Greitens, an associate professor at UT Austin's LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Direct download: What_To_Do_About_Xinjiang.mp3
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Jack Goldsmith sat down with Stephen Wertheim, deputy director of research and policy at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. He is the author of the new book, "Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy." They discussed the surprising World War II origins of U.S. hegemonic militarism, the changes in what it meant to be an internationalist during this period and the domestic political origins of the U.S. embrace of the UN Charter. They also discussed the relationship between Wertheim's book and his work for the Quincy Institute, a think tank devoted to fostering U.S. military restraint.

Direct download: Tomorrow_the_World.mp3
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This month, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence's Subcommittee on Strategic Technologies and Advanced Research released a report entitled, "Rightly Scaled, Carefully Open, Infinitely Agile: Reconfiguring to Win the Innovation Race in the Intelligence Community." Susan Hennessey sat down with Subcommittee Chair Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut to discuss the challenges the United States is facing with near-peer national competitors in science and technology and the impact on the intelligence community. They talked about the role of China, stemming intelligence community brain drain, the need for basic research and how Congress can heal itself to become part of the solution.

Direct download: Congressman_Jim_Himes_on_the_Intelligence_Innovation_Race.mp3
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It's been a wild couple of days of disinformation in the electoral context. Intelligence community officials are warning about Russian and Iranian efforts to influence the U.S. presidential election—and claiming that Iran is responsible for sending threatening emails from fake Proud Boys to Democratic voters. What exactly is going on here? To talk through the developments and the questions that linger, Benjamin Wittes sat down with Scott R. Anderson, Susan Hennessey and Quinta Jurecic.

Direct download: ForeignInterference_ItsHappening.mp3
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On this episode of Lawfare's Arbiters of Truth series on disinformation, Alina Polyakova and Quinta Jurecic spoke with Janine Zacharia, the Carlos Kelly McClatchy Lecturer in Stanford’s Department of Communication, and Andrew Grotto, director of the Program on Geopolitics, Technology and Governance and the William J. Perry International Security Fellow at Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center.

In 2016, a key part of the Russian influence campaign involved the hacking and leaking of emails belonging to the Democratic Party and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Journalists at mainstream news outlets rushed to write up the emails without giving adequate context to how they had been obtained.

So how can the press avoid a similar disaster in 2020? Zacharia and Grotto teamed up in recent months to write a playbook for reporters facing the dilemma of writing about hacked material or disinformation without participating in a disinformation campaign. (They’ve also written an article on the subject for Lawfare.) They spoke with Alina and Quinta about their recommendations for reporters, what the American press might be able to learn from colleagues abroad and how to assess the mainstream media’s response to the New York Post’s bizarre reporting on Hunter Biden.

Direct download: How_to_Report_on_Hacks_and_Disinformation.mp3
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While everyone’s attention has been focused on the coronavirus and the run-up to the 2020 election, a lot has been happening at the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees a number of government-funded entities, including the Voice of America. Michael Pack, a conservative filmmaker, was confirmed as the head of the Agency for Global Media in June after much controversy on Capitol Hill. Once installed, Pack gutted the top leadership and took actions critics say breached the firewall meant to protect these various overseas news outlets from politicization. He held back congressionally appropriated funds and even defied a bipartisan congressional subpoena for his testimony. Investigations have been opened, and lawsuits have been filed. Margaret Taylor sat down with NPR’s David Folkenflik to sort it all out.

Direct download: Fear_and_Loathing_at_the_US_Agency_for_Global_Media.mp3
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One of the most interesting strategic developments in the past few years has been the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad—the growing partnership between the United States, Japan, Australia and India. To look at how this institution resurrected itself after a false start back in 2007, what it is and isn't doing now, and whether China is right to look warily at this dialogue, David Priess spoke with Tanvi Madan, a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Program and the director of The India Project at the Brookings Institution, and Lavina Lee, a senior lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, who was appointed by the defense minister in Australia to be a director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute Council in Canberra earlier this year.

The World As You’ll Know It is available now, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you get your favorite podcasts.

Direct download: The_Quad_with_Tanvi_Madan_and_Lavina_Lee.mp3
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On October 14, the New York Post began publishing what it touted as a series of blockbuster articles on emails and photos obtained from a laptop mysteriously abandoned at a Delaware computer repair shop—emails and photos that, the Post announced, belonged to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son, Hunter. The materials had been provided to the tabloid by President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani. And from there, it only gets weirder.

In the eyes of many commentators, this looked like a continuation of Giuliani’s 2019 efforts to smear Joe Biden by claiming falsely that, while vice president, Biden had intervened to protect a Ukrainian company for which Hunter was working from investigation by Ukrainian law enforcement. That didn’t add up then, and it doesn’t now—the elder Biden’s work in Ukraine was aimed at combating corruption, not enabling it. But nevertheless, Trump and other Republicans are seizing on the Post’s stories—and complaining about efforts by social media companies to limit distribution of the stories on their platforms.

To get some perspective on what’s been going on, Quinta Jurecic spoke with Thomas Rid, a Professor of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies and the author of the book “Active Measures,” and Evelyn Douek, cohost of Lawfare’s Arbiters of Truth podcast series on disinformation and a lecturer at Harvard Law School.

Direct download: An_October_Surprise_from_the_New_York_Post.mp3
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The past year has been a difficult one for the U.S. relationship with Iraq, a country that has increasingly found itself caught in the middle of the Trump administration's maximum pressure campaign against Iran and Iran's own efforts to strike back at the United States. Now, the relationship between the United States and Iraq appears to be reaching a new low, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has reportedly threatened to close the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad unless the Iraqi government does more to thwart attacks by militias associated with Iran against U.S. personnel stationed there. But is the Trump administration really willing to take such a dramatic and seemingly self-defeating step? Or are there other factors at play? To find out, Scott R. Anderson sat down with former ambassador Doug Silliman who knows the situation in Baghdad like few others. They discussed the threat to close the embassy, the legacy of the Soleimani strike for the bilateral U.S.-Iraq relationship and what the future that relationship might look like if Secretary Pompeo makes good on his threat.

Direct download: Ambassador_Doug_Silliman_on_the_Fate_of_Embassy_Baghdad.mp3
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On this episode of Lawfare's Arbiters of Truth series on disinformation, Evelyn Douek spoke with Maria Ressa, a Filipino-American journalist and co-founder of Rappler, an online news site based in Manila. Maria was included in Time's Person of the Year in 2018 for her work combating fake news, and is currently fighting a conviction for “cyberlibel” in the Philippines for her role at Rappler. Maria and her fight are the subject of the film, “A Thousand Cuts,” released in virtual cinemas this summer and to be broadcast on PBS Frontline in early next year.

As a country where Facebook is the internet, the Philippines was in a lot of ways ground zero for many of the same dynamics and exploitations of social media that are currently playing out around the world. What is the warning we need to take from Maria’s experience and the experience of Philippine democracy? Why is the global south both the beta test and an afterthought for companies like Facebook? And how is it possible that Maria is still, somehow, optimistic?

Direct download: Maria_Ressa_on_the_Weaponization_of_Social_Media.mp3
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Last Friday, Lawfare's chief operating officer, David Priess, published a piece on the site titled, "The Powerful Norm of Accepting the Results of a Presidential Election." It recounts the long history, with few exceptions, of presidents and other candidates who respected election results even if they did not go their way—a commitment that the current president and vice president have both failed to make. David joined Benjamin Wittes to discuss the piece, the history, the president and the vice president's statements, and what it all means for the presidency and the transition of power.

Direct download: David_Priess_Accepts_the_Results_of_the_Presidential_Election.mp3
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Many of us think of the history of the United States' interaction with the world as one of relentless expansion, growth and engagement. From the early colonies, through the Spanish American War, through involvement in two world wars and of course, the Cold War era, the story is one of America increasingly getting involved with countries in its region and around the globe. Charles Kupchan has a thing or two to say about that. He recently researched and wrote the book, "Isolationism: A History of America's Efforts to Shield Itself from the World." He joined David Priess to talk through the idea that much of American history in terms of its relations to the outside world can be explained by isolationist tendencies, with only occasional bursts into more engagement, most notably in the Cold War world. But is that period coming to an end? And how does Donald Trump play into these trends?

Direct download: Charles_Kupchan_on_Isolationism.mp3
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Congress is capable of moving a Supreme Court justice at record speed, yet it can't get coronavirus relief passed. It has struggled to keep the government open, and it has pending business that it has to accomplish now or during the lame duck session. Margaret Taylor and Molly Reynolds, both of Lawfare and the Brookings Institution, joined Benjamin Wittes for a Lawfare Live event to discuss the health of this first branch of government and its functioning during the combined crises of the coronavirus and an election in the midst of extreme partisan polarization. They talked about how oversight has worked (and how it hasn't), the relationship between Congress and the courts, whether McConnell can get the Supreme Court nomination through and what might be able to stop him.

Direct download: Molly_Reynolds_and_Margaret_Taylor_Talk_Congress.mp3
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Andrew Weissmann was the general counsel of the FBI. He was the head of the Justice Department's fraud section and helped run the Enron Task Force. And yet, he is best known these days for having been one of Bob Mueller's top prosecutors—and certainly the most smeared of Bob Mueller's prosecutors. Weismann's name became a kind of tagline for Mueller's supposedly evil alter ego as the investigation went on, and Andrew's new book, "Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation," recounts the whole experience. In it, Weissman describes what the Mueller investigation did right, what it did wrong, what it could have done differently and how it all went down from the inside. He joined Benjamin Wittes for a Lawfare Live event to discuss the book.

Direct download: Andrew_Weissman_on_Where_Law_Ends.mp3
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On this episode of our Arbiters of Truth series on disinformation, Evelyn Douek and Quinta Jurecic spoke with Yochai Benkler, a professor at Harvard Law School and co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society.

With only weeks until Election Day in the United States, there’s a lot of mis- and disinformation flying around on the subject of mail-in ballots. Discussions about addressing that disinformation often focus on platforms like Facebook or Twitter. But a new study by the Berkman Klein Center suggests that social media isn’t the most important part of mail-in ballot disinformation campaigns—rather, traditional mass media like news outlets and cable news are the main vector by which the Republican Party and the president have spread these ideas.

So what’s the research behind this counterintuitive finding? And what are the implications for how we think about disinformation and the media ecosystem?

Direct download: Yochai_Benkler_on_Mass_Media_Disinformation_Campaigns.mp3
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We have an election in less than a month, and a lot of analysts seem to be expecting contested results. Doomsday scenarios are playing out in the pages of national magazines, the campaigns are gearing up for legal challenges and a lot of people are super worried about it. But there's something missing from a lot of these conversations: actual state law. State laws are the rules under which an election will initially be challenged, and they differ a great deal from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Benjamin Wittes sat down with Scott Anderson who led a team for Lawfare that surveyed the key battleground states' challenge regimes for contested elections. They talked about how these regimes differ, how they are similar, which ones give rise to particular concerns and what it all means for the upcoming federal election.

Direct download: Scott_Anderson_on_State_Election_Rules.mp3
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Starting in January 2017, John Brennan became one of President Trump's most blunt critics among former national security professionals. In the years since, he has been working on writing a book, now available, called "Undaunted: My Fight Against America's Enemies at Home and Abroad." David Priess sat down with John to talk about the book and his career. They talked about what brought him to the CIA, his career as a CIA officer and manager, his work overseas at the CIA, his time at the White House as the Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism for President Obama in his first term, and his time as CIA director in President Obama's second term. They covered some controversies, including enhanced interrogation, the reorganization of the CIA in the so-called "modernization effort," Russian interference in the 2016 election, and of course, his outspoken criticisms of the president ever since.

Direct download: John_Brennan_Remains_Undaunted.mp3
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President Trump is at Walter Reed with the COVID virus. A large number of executive and legislative branch officials have also tested positive. What happens when the president is seriously ill? What happens when the president is incapacitated? And what happens when a presidential candidate falls seriously ill—after people have already started voting? These are not all questions entirely answered by the law, but they are all questions on which the law has something to say. To talk it all through, Benjamin Wittes spoke with an all Lawfare panel including managing editor Quinta Jurecic, founding editor Jack Goldsmith and chief operating officer David Priess.

Direct download: The_President_and_the_Coronavirus.mp3
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On September 25, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested a Canadian man for faking his involvement in the Islamic State. It’s a strange charge, but the situation is made more complicated by the fact that the man—who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Huzayfah—was the primary subject of “Caliphate” a popular New York Times podcast series about the Islamic State. In that series, Abu Huzayfah talked at length about spending time with the Islamic State and rehashed in great detail his involvement in the executions of prisoners detained by the group. It’s a complicated set of facts with a lot to unpack. Do we have any real sense of what happened? What features of the Canadian national security apparatus might have contributed to the bizarre situation? And what does the whole ordeal reveal about the challenges and pitfalls of telling stories about the war on terror?

To talk through everything, Jacob Schulz spoke with Leah West, a lecturer at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University and a fellow at the McCain Institute, and Amarnath Amarasingam, an assistant professor in the School of Religion at Queen’s University.

Direct download: An_Islamic_State_Hoax.mp3
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On this episode of Lawfare's Arbiters of Truth series on disinformation, Evelyn Douek and Quinta Jurecic talked about how everything is on fire—not metaphorically, but literally. In recent months, wildfires in the American West have caused unprecedented devastation and forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes. And along with the fires, the West has been grappling with a surge of false material circulating online about the flames. But this isn’t the first time wildfires and disinformation have gone together. This past December and January, Australia was hit with both a brutal bushfire season and a similar wave of disinformation and misinformation about what sparked the fires and the role of climate change.

Evelyn and Quinta spoke about the offline and online conflagrations on both sides of the Pacific with Charlie Warzel of the New York Times and Cam Wilson, a reporter for Gizmodo Australia and Business Insider Australia.

Direct download: Everything_is_On_Fire.mp3
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