Chatter

9/22/2022

Josephine Baker, Singer and Spy, with Damien Lewis

Season 1, Ep. 49
In her day, Josephine Baker was one of the most famous women in the world. Fans recognized the superstar singer, actress, and dancer everywhere she went, particularly on the streets of Paris, where she often walked a pet cheetah on a diamond leash. Why would anyone think such a conspicuous person might make the perfect spy? Author Damien Lewis set out to answer that question in his latest book, “Agent Josephine: American Beauty, French Hero, British Spy.” It chronicles Baker’s remarkable career as an agent for French counterintelligence during WWII. Baker participated in numerous clandestine missions, and her work informed British and U.S. intelligence as well. Baker left the United States in the Jim Crow era and was embraced by French audiences. But she became a target of Nazi propagandists. When Germany invaded France, Baker devoted herself to the Resistance and the Allies’ cause. It turned out that her performing talents were well suited to work as an intelligence agent. Baker used her connections to get close to Axis VIPs, including in the Italian government, who didn’t know she was passing valuable details from their conversations back to her French compatriots. She used her extraordinary fame as a cover, at times hiding secret documents practically in plain sight while on tour. Lewis and Shane Harris discussed Baker’s remarkable and little known espionage career, which reveals much about the inner life of one of the 20th Century’s biggest stars. Chatter is a production of Lawfare and Goat Rodeo. This episode was produced and edited by Cara Shillenn of Goat Rodeo. Podcast theme by David Priess, featuring music created using Groovepad.Among the works mentioned in this episode:Damien Lewis’ book, “Agent Josephine:” https://www.publicaffairsbooks.com/titles/damien-lewis/agent-josephine/9781541700666/ Lewis’ other books” https://damienlewis.com/books/ Lewis on Twitter: https://twitter.com/authordlewis Baker and Lewis in The New Yorker: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2022/08/15/josephine-baker-was-the-star-france-wanted-and-the-spy-it-needed-damien-lewis-agent-josephine Baker inducted into the Pantheon: https://www.npr.org/2021/11/30/1059776777/josephine-baker-france-pantheon 
9/15/2022

CIA Paramilitary Ops in Reality and Fiction

Season 1, Ep. 48
Of all of the Central Intelligence Agency's activities, paramilitary operations might remain the least understood. This, in part, is both a cause and a consequence of inaccurate portrayals of such work in prominent movies; it's also because fewer memoirs come from the CIA's Special Activities Division than from traditional human intelligence collectors and from analysts. David Priess chatted with former CIA officer Ric Prado about the fiction and the reality of CIA paramilitary operations, including stories Ric tells in his book Black Ops: The Life of a CIA Shadow Warrior. They spoke about what Hollywood gets wrong about intelligence work, Ric's escape as a child from Castro's Cuba, his path to a CIA career, differences between paramilitary operations and intelligence collection, his years of work with the Contras in Central America, the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) at CIA before and on 9/11, the work ethic in CTC after 9/11, why his book has substantial chunks of redacted text, and who he thinks played the best James Bond.Chatter is a production of Lawfare and Goat Rodeo. This episode was produced by David Priess with Cara Shillenn of Goat Rodeo, with additional editing by Cara Shillenn. Podcast theme by David Priess, featuring music created using Groovepad. Among the works mentioned in this episode:The book Black Ops: The Life of a CIA Shadow Warrior by Ric PradoThe film ArgoThe film Three Days of the CondorThe Jason Bourne filmsThe film True LiesThe Mission Impossible filmsThe James Bond films
9/8/2022

Spying in the NFL with Kevin Bryant

Season 1, Ep. 47
You don't have to look very far under the surface of the average game in the National Football League to find cloak-and-dagger machinations worthy of governmental intelligence agencies. During the past several decades, teams have used both myriad spying tactics to gain extra advantages and extensive counterintelligence techniques to thwart them. The line between traditional espionage and NFL methods is surprisingly thin.David Priess chatted with author Kevin Bryant about historical and present-day examples of it all, building on Kevin's new book Spies on the Sidelines: The High-Stakes World of NFL Espionage. They discussed known cases of spying before and during the draft, extraordinary means of collecting information about opposing teams' practices and playbooks, common countermeasures of security officers employed by various teams, attempts to intercept signals and play calls, electronic interference with headset communications, locker room spies, evolving league rules about dirty tricks, and the ethics of it all. And, of course, a conversation about covert action in the NFL wouldn't be complete without attention to the recent twin scandals involving the New England Patriots, Spygate and Deflategate.Chatter is a production of Lawfare and Goat Rodeo. This episode was produced by David Priess, with editing by Cara Shillenn of Goat Rodeo. Podcast theme by David Priess, featuring music created using Groovepad.
8/25/2022

The Moon, Mars, and National Security with Fraser Cain

Season 1, Ep. 45
NASA next week plans to launch the first of several Artemis missions, which collectively aim to land astronauts on the Moon again for the first time in more than half a century, explore the lunar surface more extensively, and establish a long-term presence on the Moon. Controversy lingers over both the launch system selected for these missions and the next step of human spaceflight to Mars.David Priess spoke with science journalist Fraser Cain, publisher of Universe Today and co-host of Astronomy Cast, about why exploring the Moon matters, what to expect from the launch and voyage of Artemis-I, and the challenges of missions to Mars. They also chatted about international space competition vs. cooperation during the Cold War and now, NASA's rollout of initial images from the James Webb Space Telescope, space-based threats ranging from gamma ray bursts and rogue black holes to near-Earth objects and coronal mass ejections, Cain's evolution in communicating science both online and through podcasts, the downward spiral of engaging conspiracy theorists, frustrations with popular culture's association of unidentified aerial phenomena with "aliens," and the interaction of science fiction and real-world space exploration.Chatter is a production of Lawfare and Goat Rodeo. This episode was produced and edited by Cara Shillenn of Goat Rodeo. Podcast theme by David Priess, featuring music created using Groovepad. Among the works discussed in this episode:The book The Martian by Andy WeirThe movie The MartianThe movie Don't Look UpThe Alien film franchiseThe movie AvatarThe book Death by Black Hole by Neil deGrasse TysonThe book Death from the Skies by Phil PlaitThe podcast The Skeptics Guide to the UniverseThe TV show For All MankindThe Foundation book series by Issac Asimov
8/18/2022

Gone with the Wind, Hitler, and America First with Sarah Churchwell

Season 1, Ep. 44
Gone with the Wind--the top-grossing movie of all time, adjusted for inflation--remains an iconic influence in American culture, despite its deeply troubling portrayal of social and political dynamics in the South during and after the Civil War. The continued popularity of the film points to a need to examine its influence on nearly a century's worth of American race relations, fascistic movements, and denialism in the United States. And why did Adolf Hitler reportedly love it so much?David Priess spoke with cultural and literary historian Sarah Churchwell of the University of London, author of The Wrath To Come, a book that dives deeply into the film, how it reflects a mythologized "Lost Cause" version of the Old South, and its connection with today's increasing political violence. They discuss the popularity of the movie, its differences from the book it was based on, some of the challenges for filmmaker David O. Selznick and for the film's actors, the "Lost Cause" theme that the movie conveys, its intersection with fascist thinking in America and with modern racism, why it attracted Adolf Hitler and other Nazi leaders, its links to various iterations of the Klan and "America First" campaigns, and how even disturbing movies like this can spur social progress.Chatter is a production of Lawfare and Goat Rodeo. This episode was produced and edited by Cara Shillenn of Goat Rodeo. Podcast theme by David Priess, featuring music created using Groovepad. Among the works discussed in this episode:The movie Gone with the WindThe book Gone with the Wind by Margaret MitchellThe book The Wrath To Come: Gone with the Wind and the Lies America Tells by Sarah ChurchwellThe article "Agglutination Test for Americanos" by Leslie L. Jones, The Smart Set magazine, May-Aug 1922.The book Behold, America: The Entangled History of "America First" and "the American Dream" by Sarah Churchwell
8/4/2022

Climate Change and National Security with Erin Sikorsky

Season 1, Ep. 42
Climate change and its effects are increasingly recognized as important subjects of national security research and analysis. Few issues of international political economy or international security avoid some intersection with warming global temperatures, evolving environments for human habitation, and/or changing geography.Erin Sikorsky has been studying these and related issues for decades, first within the US Intelligence Community and now at the Center for Climate and Security. David Priess had a wide ranging conversation with Erin about her career in government and beyond, how intelligence officers look at climate, a method of categorizing climate risk, how NATO is tackling climate-related issues, the missed opportunity to emphasize renewables over fossil fuels after Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the Climate Security Advisory Group, increasingly bipartisan support for climate security action, the roles of the public and Hollywood in addressing climate change, how various movies and books have examined these issues, and more.Chatter is a production of Lawfare and Goat Rodeo. This episode was produced and edited by Cara Shillenn of Goat Rodeo. Podcast theme by David Priess, featuring music created using Groovepad.Among the works discussed in this episode:Erin Sikorsky's page at the Center for Climate and Security The Chatter podcast episode Arctic Security and Cooperation with Marisol Maddox"Summer Heatwave Underscores Importance of NATO's Climate Security Focus," Center for Climate and Security website, July 21, 2022, by Erin Sikorsky"Climate Security Next Steps for the U.S. Government," Lawfare, May 6, 2022, by John Conger and Erin SikorskyThe movie AvatarThe movie InterstellarThe movie The Day After TomorrowThe movie Don't Look UpThe book The Ministry of the Future by Kim Stanley RobinsonThe book trilogy The Broken Earth by N. K. JemisinThe book Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth KolbertThe report Groundswell, Part 2: Acting on Internal Climate Migration, by the World BankJohn Conger's page at the Center for Climate and Security
7/28/2022

Spotting Fake News with Cindy Otis

Season 1, Ep. 41
Fake news has been around for thousands of years in different forms that have changed with media technology, and there's little doubt that it's here to stay. For reasons ranging from human biases to financial incentives to the need for speed, it remains a hard problem. Cindy Otis, who worked for about 10 years at the Central Intelligence Agency as an analyst and a manager, now writes about fake news and related matters in articles and books--including True or False: A CIA Analyst's Guide to Spotting Fake News, which she targeted at a Young Adult audience. She balances a deep understanding of the challenges of fake news with a deep commitment to providing practical guidance for dealing with it.David Priess spoke with Cindy about writing about fake news and other national security issues for the Young Adult audience, the history of fake news, the challenges of writing about the Holocaust, the changing terminology for disabled persons, the continuing challenges of wheelchair use in travel and in government buildings, her experiences at the CIA, why she writes for outlets ranging from Teen Vogue to USA Today, how to avoid falling prey to fake news, and why the exposure of Russian fake news about Ukraine gives her optimism about our collective ability to counter disinformation. Chatter is a production of Lawfare and Goat Rodeo. This episode was produced and edited by Cara Shillenn of Goat Rodeo. Podcast theme by David Priess, featuring music created using Groovepad. Among the works discussed in this episode:The book True or False: A CIA Analyst's Guide to Spotting Fake News by Cindy OtisThe book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. RowlingCindy Otis's writing for Teen VoguePreview of the forthcoming book At the Speed of Lies by Cindy Otis