Chatter

2/2/2023

M. Todd Bennett on the Secretive Story of the Glomar Explorer

Season 1, Ep. 68
A sunken Soviet submarine. A secret CIA plan to lift it from the bottom of the ocean with a giant claw. And reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. It sounds like the makings of a Netflix series--and it should be. But the story of the Glomar Explorer is the stuff of fact, even if it has long been shrouded in secrecy.  In his new book, intelligence historian M. Todd Bennett pierces the veil surrounding this most improbable of intelligence operations and surfaces a riveting tale of underwater espionage and high-stakes foreign policy. The sub-salvage mission, which the CIA codenamed AZORIAN, was greenlit at a time of remarkable daring and ingenuity by the spy agency, which enjoyed only minimal oversight from Congress. But journalists brought the Glomar operation to light in another era, when scandals and excesses led lawmakers to reign in the intelligence community.  Shane Harris talks with Bennett about his book, Neither Confirm nor Deny: How the Glomar Mission Shielded the CIA from Transparency, which shows how the exposure of the secret program led to a public backlash against disclosures of classified information and helped reenforce the culture of secrecy that envelops the CIA’s work. The phrase “neither confirm nor deny,” which Bennett tells Harris has become a kind of coy cliche, originates from attempts to uncover the facts of the Glomar mission. Chatter is a production of Lawfare and Goat Rodeo. This episode was produced by Cara Shillenn of Goat Rodeo. Podcast theme by David Priess, featuring music created using Groovepad.Works mentioned during this episode:Bennett’s book, Neither Confirm nor Deny: http://cup.columbia.edu/book/neither-confirm-nor-deny/9780231193474 The Foreign Relations of the United States Series. A volume that Bennett edited includes declassified records documenting the Glomar incident. https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/about-frus Bennett’s bio and other writing: https://history.ecu.edu/m-todd-bennett/ Bennett on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mtoddbennett?lang=en
1/19/2023

A Post-Presidency Done Right with Jean Becker

Season 1, Ep. 66
For almost 25 years, until his death in November 2018, former president George H. W. Bush's chief of staff was Jean Becker. For event after event through both the best of those times and the worst--from dozens of affirming trips overseas to several parachute jumps in his latter years to many funerals--Becker was there to schedule it, plan it, manage it, and often attend it. All of this has given her a uniquely wide and deep understanding of the challenges and rewards of a long post-presidency.For the 30th anniversary of Bush 41's departure from the White House, David Priess chatted with Becker about how she first came to work with First Lady Barbara Bush, how that led to her work as chief of staff for Bush after he'd left office, the diverse activities of a lengthy post-presidency, former presidents' interactions with intelligence and classified material, Bush 41's choice to refrain from frequent political statements, his relationships with other presidents ranging from his son to Bill Clinton to Barack Obama to Joe Biden, and what a chief of staff for a former president actually does.Chatter is a production of Lawfare and Goat Rodeo. This episode was produced and edited by Noam Osband and Cara Shillenn of Goat Rodeo. Podcast theme by David Priess, featuring music created using Groovepad.Works mentioned during this episode:The book The Man I Knew: The Amazing Story of George H. W. Bush's Post-Presidency by Jean BeckerThe book The President's Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael DuffyThe book 41 by George W. BushThe book Pearls of Wisdom by Barbara BushThe book The Nazi Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer and Josh MenschThe TV series Ted Lasso
1/12/2023

Ana Montes, the American who Spied for Cuba, with Jim Popkin

Season 1, Ep. 65
In 2001, the FBI arrested a top U.S. intelligence officer who had spied for Cuba for nearly two decades. The story of Ana Montes, whose colleagues called her “The Queen of Cuba,” has all the hallmarks of an espionage thriller. She was among the most damaging spies of her generation, and yet her story remains lesser known than more notorious Cold War-era turncoats. In his new book, journalist Jim Popkin tells the story of Montes’ radicalization, her recruitment by Cuban intelligence, and how she managed to spy so long undetected. Montes was released from prison earlier this month, after serving a lengthy prison sentence. New details of her story have come to light in Poplin’s book, Code Name Blue Wren: The True Story of America's Most Dangerous Female Spy—and the Sister She Betrayed. Popkin sat down with Shane Harris to talk about Montes’ story, what drove her to become a spy, and the investigation that brought her to justice.  Chatter is a production of Lawfare and Goat Rodeo. This episode was engineered by Ian Enright and edited by Cara Shillenn of Goat Rodeo. Podcast theme by David Priess, featuring music created using Groovepad.Among the works cited in this episode are:Popkin’s book: https://www.harpercollins.com/products/code-name-blue-wren-jim-popkin?variant=40333137838114 Popkin’s feature on Montes in The Washington Post magazine: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/feature/wp/2013/04/18/ana-montes-did-much-harm-spying-for-cuba-chances-are-you-havent-heard-of-her/ Popkin on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JimPopkin?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor 
12/29/2022

Chatter Archive: The Truth About UFOs with Leslie Kean

Season 1, Ep. 63
This week, we're taking time off for the holidays - so we reached into the Chatter archives for one of our favorite shows from the last year. In this episode, Shane Harris sits down with veteran journalist Leslie Kean, who has done groundbreaking and widely admired reporting on unidentified flying objects. And, no, that does not mean aliens. Kean's bestselling 2010 book, UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record, was a sober account of credible, first-hand witnesses to unexplained aerial phenomena. In 2017, Kean co-authored a major New York Times article that revealed a secret Pentagon effort devoted to the study of UFOs. More recently, the U.S. government has begun to standardize UFO reporting by military personnel and has declassified more information about what it knows about strange objects in the sky. Kean's reporting played a significant role in those disclosures. Kean discusses her early career as a journalist, her travels in Burma, and her interest in Buddhism. She talks about the important questions that remain about UFOs, and what the U.S. government may be on the cusp of answering.  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 cited in this episode are:Leslie Kean's website: https://www.lesliekean.com/ UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/114166/leslie-kean/ "Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program:" https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/16/us/politics/pentagon-program-ufo-harry-reid.html "Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena" (Office of the Director of National Intelligence): https://www.dni.gov/files/ODNI/documents/assessments/Prelimary-Assessment-UAP-20210625.pdf 
12/22/2022

Presidents Who Lose and Run Again with Troy Senik

Season 1, Ep. 62
Donald Trump is trying to do something rare--very rare--in American history: lose a presidential election, run again, and get elected to a second term. Only one president, the underappreciated Grover Cleveland, has ever accomplished that feat. Yet his story remains largely unknown.David Priess invited Troy Senik, author of a new biography of Grover Cleveland called A Man of Iron: The Turbulent Life and Improbable Presidency of Grover Cleveland, to Chatter to explore how the stories of rejected presidents in the past shed light on Trump's effort to retake the Oval Office now--with a whole lotta Grover in the conversation.They discussed how we rate U.S. leaders, the cases of presidents who lost their reelection bids and then tried again, what drove those men to do so, Grover Cleveland's formative experiences, his political offices in New York, how he became president, his predilection for vetoes, his loss in 1888, his comeback in 1892, why Cleveland is largely forgotten, how our views of presidents change over time, how Cleveland's effort in 1892 to regain the presidency compares to Trump's attempt now, 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 mentioned in this episode:The book Grover Cleveland, Again! by Ken BurnsThe book A Man of Iron: The Turbulent Life and Improbable Presidency of Grover Cleveland by Troy SenikThe book Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage by Allen NevinsThe book James Monroe by Tim McGrathThe book The Number Ones by Tom Briehan
12/15/2022

Reassessing Reagan's Foreign Policy with Will Inboden

Season 1, Ep. 61
Ronald Reagan stands among the most consequential national security presidents in United States history, not least of which because his policies helped to end the Cold War without a direct war between the superpowers. Reagan's vision for ending the Cold War evolved during his presidency, but followed clear principles he brought with him to the office.Will Inboden, a historian and former policymaker who leads the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin, has written a new survey of the 40th president's national security policies, The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink. In it, he uses newly declassified documents and policymaker interviews to give an informative and insightful reassessment of the formation, development, execution, and impact of Reagan's foreign policy.In this discussion, David Priess and Inboden touch on the challenges of conducting research on decades-old administrations, the National Security Council process under different presidents, Reagan's influence on an entire generation, the origins of Reagan's national security views, the impact of the 1981 assassination attempt, the nature and influence of Reagan's faith, his evolving relationship with Soviet leaders, the Reykjavik summit, how close the US and USSR came to agreeing to eliminate nuclear weapons, Reagan's legacy beyond the Cold War, what Will would ask Reagan if he had the chance to do so, how Reagan might view the United States today, why Reagan is hard to capture onscreen, 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 mentioned in this episode:The book The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink by William InbodenThe book Reagan's War Stories by Benjamin GriffinThe book Rawhide Down by Del Quentin WilberThe book Reagan at Reykjavik by Kenneth Adelman"Democracy's Next Battle," Ronald Reagan's address to the Oxford Union Society (December 4, 1992)The film Lincoln
12/8/2022

Visualizing Vladimir Putin with Andrew Weiss

Season 1, Ep. 60
Longtime Russia watcher Andrew Weiss took an unconventional approach to his new biography, Accidental Czar: The Life and Lies of Vladimir Putin. Teaming up with illustrator Box Brown, Weiss wrote a graphic novel that tells the story of Putin’s rise from an impoverished childhood in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) to the undisputed authoritarian ruler of Russia. A big theme of the book is how Putin imagined an idea of himself as a strongman through spy movies and pulp novels that he devoured as a young person. The graphic novel seems a particularly fitting format for exploring Putin, who has successfully cultivated a caricature of himself in the West as a cunning, sophisticated, hyper-masculine leader. But, as Weiss writes, “seeing Putin as he wants us to see him, rather than as he is,” makes it harder to confront the challenge Russia poses to Western interests and security in Europe. Shane Harris talked to Weiss about his own childhood in California and why he was drawn at an early age to studying Russia. Weiss previously served as director for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian Affairs on the National Security Council staff, as a member of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, and as a policy assistant in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy during the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush. He’s now the James Family Chair and vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment, where he oversees research on Russia and Eurasia. 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:Andrew Weiss’ graphic novel on Putin: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250760753/accidentalczar Weiss’ bio: https://carnegieendowment.org/experts/824 Weiss on Twitter: https://twitter.com/andrewsweiss?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor Illustrator Brian “Box” Brown: https://www.boxbrown.com/ Other graphic novels that inspired Weiss:Maus by Art Spiegelman: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/171065/the-complete-maus-by-art-spiegelman/  On Tyranny Graphic Edition by Timothy Snyder, Illustrated by Nora Krug https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/653012/on-tyranny-graphic-edition-by-timothy-snyder-illustrated-by-nora-krug/Movies and TV shows discussed in this episode: The Shield and the Sword: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0166790/ Seventeen Moments of Spring: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0069628/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1