‘Special Military Operations’ Against the Russians with Benjamin Wittes
On April 13, 2022, in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Lawfare Editor in Chief Benjamin Wittes conducted his first “special military operation” at the Russian embassy in Washington, DC. It involved 14 theater stage lights that Wittes and other activists used to project images of the Ukrainian flag onto embassy walls. Since then, Wittes’s special military operations have garnered increased attention and become more complex—technically and diplomatically.
In his conversation with Katherine Pompilio, one of Lawfare’s associate editors and this week’s Chatter guest host, Wittes talks about the genesis of these special military operations, what it’s like conducting international negotiations with Russian diplomats via the U.S. Secret Service, the international law of light protests, how a paper mache washing machine is involved in all of this, his career, his other projects, and more.
Works mentioned in this episode:
Ben’s Substack Dog Shirt Daily
The video Defect and Repent: A Laser Poem
The Washington Post article “Activists train spotlight of Ukrainian flag on Russian Embassy”
The video of the spotlight cat and mouse game
The work of Robin Bell
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.
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102. Governing Space Settlements Ethically with Erika Nesvold01:31:05As humanity builds settlements beyond Earth, myriad ethical issues will arise--many in a different way than they do terrestrially. Astrophysicist and space communicator Erika Nesvold has devoted extensive thought and research to how to ethically govern space settlements, most notably on her podcast Making New Worlds and in her book Off-Earth.In a conversation that pairs well with Shane Harris's March 2022 Chatter discussion with astrobiologist Lucianne Walkowicz about ethical space exploration, David Priess spoke with Erika about her grounding in Star Trek and other science fiction, the JustSpace Alliance that she co-founded with Lucianne, that alliance's interactions with space industrialists, Erika's application to be an astronaut, conflicting motivations for humanity to settle space, how we should select space settlers, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, the concept of legal personhood for non-terrestrial bodies, labor law and criminal justice in space settlements, how motivations for settling space influence openness to various forms of government, and more.Among the works mentioned in this episode:The podcast Making New Worlds The book Off-Earth by Erika NesvoldThe Chatter podcast episode Ethical Space Exploration with Lucianne Walkowicz The Star Trek universeThe Foundation book series by Isaac AsimovThe Dune book series by Frank HerbertThe YouTube video All TomorrowsThe movie 2012The book 2010 by Arthur C. ClarkeThe book Artemis by Andy WeirThe movie SunshineThe book A Brief History of Equality by Thomas PinkettyThe book series The Wheel of Time by Robert JordanThe book Doomsday Book by Connie WillisChatter 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.
101. Secret Intelligence and the British Royal Family with Rory Cormac01:15:27The British royal family and UK intelligence operations have been linked since Queen Victoria's time, involving everything from personal protection to matters of international intrigue to concerns about blackmail. Professor and author Rory Cormac, who has conducted extensive research on the British intelligence services, has recently added to his corpus of writings in the field with a book about the modern royal-intelligence intersection: Crown, Cloak, and Dagger, co-authored with Richard Aldrich.David Priess and Rory discussed the difference in US and UK education about the royal family; intelligence foundations during the reign of the first Elizabeth; why it fell apart under her successor; the seeds of modern intelligence under Victoria; the involvement of UK intelligence officers in the death of Grigori Rasputin; the challenges and advances involving intelligence and Edward VII, George V, and Edward VIII; the contributions of George VI to the Allies' massive D-Day deception operations; Elizabeth II's reading of intelligence reports; Soviet spy Anthony Blunt's close relationship with the royal family; Elizabeth's role as a diplomatic "helper;" the exposures of Charles III and Prince Willliam to intelligence; why Clement Attlee was an underappreciated prime minister; and more.Among the works mentioned in this episode:The book Crown, Cloak, and Dagger by Richard J. Aldrich and Rory CormacThe book How To Stage a Coup by Rory CormacChatter 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.
100. Covering Unidentified Aerial Phenomena with Shane Harris01:18:08Chatter 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.
99. A Spy in the Manhattan Project with Steve James01:11:31When he was 18 years old, Ted Hall, then a Harvard undergraduate, was recruited to join the Manhattan Project, becoming the youngest physicist on the U.S. team racing to build an atomic bomb before the Nazis. When it became clear that Germany would lose the war, Hall feared that the Americans might maintain a monopoly over nuclear weapons, an imbalance he thought could lead to global tyranny. So he decided to share secret designs with the Soviet Union, which was then an ally of the United States on its own path to build a bomb.That fateful action, and the life-long consequences for Hall and his wife, Joan, are the subject of filmmaker Steve James’ new documentary, “A Compassionate Spy.” Using original interviews with members of Hall’s family, and archival footage of the now deceased physicist, James explores Hall’s motivations for sharing nuclear secrets and the FBI’s attempts to charge him with that crime. It’s a complex story about espionage, idealism, and ultimately the love between Ted and Joan that helped to keep the truth hidden for decades.Shane Harris spoke with James about the film and his career as a documentary filmmaker. James directed several acclaimed films, including “Hoop Dreams,” “Life Itself,” and “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail.”“A Compassionate Spy” trailer: https://participant.com/film/compassionate-spySteve James’ filmography: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0416945/ Also discussed in this interview:“Mission to Moscow,” the surprising pro-Soviet film from “Casablanca” director Michael Curtiz: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036166/?ref_=nm_flmg_t_39_dr“Bombshell: The Secret Story of America's Unknown Atomic Spy Conspiracy,” by Joseph Albright and Marcia Kunstel https://www.amazon.com/Bombshell-Secret-Americas-Atomic-Conspiracy/dp/081292861XThe Venona program, which helped to finger Hall as a spy for Moscowhttps://www.nsa.gov/Helpful-Links/NSA-FOIA/Declassification-Transparency-Initiatives/Historical-Releases/Venona/https://www.osti.gov/opennet/manhattan-project-history/Events/1945-present/venona.htmChatter 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.
98. Geopolitics and the Rise of the English Language with Rosemary Salomone01:20:10The English language has recently developed a historically unique dominance in the global marketplace--a situation that brings plenty of benefits and just as many downsides. Rosemary Salomone, Kenneth Wang Professor of Law at St. John's University, has researched and analyzed various perspectives on English's supremacy in her recent book The Rise of English, which has a paperback version with a new preface coming early in 2024.David Priess spoke with Rosemary about her background in linguistics and education studies, the origins of the English language's dominance, the role of pop culture in the balance between English as spoken in the United States and as spoken in the United Kingdom, divergent official language policies of international organizations like the United Nations and the European Union, the Anglophone bubble, English as a marketable skill, the debate about the English language within France, French vs Chinese inroads in Africa, the role of the French and English languages in the Rwandan genocide and its aftermath, the controversy over the People's Republic of China-funded Confucius Institutes, the rise of English as the language of protest internationally, the culture around foreign language learning in the US, views about computer coding as a "foreign langauge," Ukrainian President Zelensky's use of the English language, the possibility of Spanish replacing English as the most global language, and more.Among the works mentioned in this episode:The book The Rise of English by Rosemary SalomoneThe book True American by Rosemary SalomoneThe book Visions of Schooling by Rosemary SalomoneThe book Madam Speaker by Susan PageChatter 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.
97. The ERAS Tour (Ben’s Version) with Benjamin Wittes01:17:20On April 13, 2022, in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Lawfare Editor in Chief Benjamin Wittes conducted his first “special military operation” at the Russian embassy in Washington, DC. Now, Wittes is conducting these protests abroad on what he calls the ERAS (Eradicating Russian Ambassadorial Sleep) Tour. In his conversation with Katherine Pompilio, one of Lawfare’s associate editors and this week’s Chatter guest host, Wittes talks about his most successful special military operation yet, dealing with international law enforcement, NATO’s impact on Baltic countries, the American versus European understanding of the war in Ukraine, and more.Works mentioned in this episode:Ben’s Substack Dog Shirt DailyBen’s speech at a rally in StockholmThe work of Nikita TitovChatter 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.
96. Russian Spies in Reality and Fiction with Calder Walton01:36:24Dr. Calder Walton, assistant director of the Applied History Project and Intelligence Project at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, has become one of the world's most highly respected intelligence historians. His most recent book, Spies: The Epic Intelligence War Between East and West, describes the long history of Russian spying--placing it into the wider context of the hundred-year espionage war between the East and West. And this gives him a remarkable perspective on how Soviet and Russian operations against the West have been portrayed in movies and television.David Priess spoke with Calder about his path to researching and writing within the intelligence history subfield; the story of the Mitrokhin archive; the Cambridge Five; the Rosenbergs; Oleg Penkovsky; Aldrich Ames; Robert Hanssen; Russian disinformation campaigns in historical context; enduring popular myths about the master recruits of the KGB; and much more.Among the works mentioned in this episode:The article "How Oppenheimer's Atomic Bomb Secrets Were Really Stolen by Soviet Russia," Fortune (July 24, 2023), by Calder WaltonThe play Hamilton and book Alexander Hamilton by Ron ChernowThe book The Sword and the Shield by Christopher AndrewThe book The Mitrokhin Archive by Christopher Andrew and Vasili MitrokhinThe book Defend the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 by Christopher AndrewThe book The Secret History of MI6 by Keith JefferyThe book Behind the Enigma: The Authorized History of GCHQ by John FerrisThe book Empire of Secrets by Calder WaltonThe book Spies -- digital expansion websiteThe book Spies, Lies, and Algorithms by Amy Zegart 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.
95. Covering the Justice Department During and After Trump, with Katie Benner01:07:49Katie Benner is a features writer for the New York Times, who covered the Justice Department for a number of years beginning in 2017. In a wide-ranging conversation, she sat down with Lawfare editor-in-chief to talk about the challenges of walking into the Justice Department beat during the Trump administration and covering the post-election uprising within the department. She also gave a textured assessment of the department’s criminal investigation of Trump and other Jan. 6 defendants. And she talks about what makes a Justice Department source, and how the department has changed in the era of Merrick Garland.Among the works mentioned in this episode:The article, "Trump and Justice Dept. Lawyer Said to Have Plotted to Oust Acting Attorney General," by Katie Benner.The article," Louisiana School Made Headlines for Sending Black Kids to Elite Colleges. Here’s the Reality," by Erica L. Green and Katie BennerChatter 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.
94. The Story of Reality Winner with Tina Satter56:49In June 2017, FBI agents arrived at the home of Reality Winner, a translator working for the NSA, to question her about an unauthorized leak of classified information concerning Russian interference in U.S. elections. Six years later, Tina Satter’s new film, “Reality,” tells the story of that fateful day, which led to Winner’s imprisonment. Satter’s screenplay relies almost entirely on a verbatim transcript of Winner’s conversations with the FBI agents. The dialogue is by turns quotidian and suspenseful. "Reality" is partly a psychological thriller as well as an exploration of the mind and motivations of Winner herself. She received the longest prison sentence ever given by a federal court for the unauthorized release of government information to the media. Shane Harris talked with Satter about her film, which is based on her stage play, “Is This a Room.” Satter says she became fascinated with Winner after reading about her arrest in the press. She thought the transcript had dramatic potential. To Satter, it read like the script for a play, with a list of characters and dialogue. “Is This a Room” received critical praise and won important theatre awards. The movie, “Reality,” is streaming on Max. Satter began her theatrical career in Portland, Oregon, and has worked with some of the biggest names in experimental theatre. She now lives and works in New York. Among the works mentioned in this episode:“Reality” on Max: https://www.hbo.com/movies/reality “Is This a Room” review: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/11/theater/is-this-a-room-review.html The New York magazine article that first got Satter interested in Winner's story: https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2017/12/who-is-reality-winner.html Satter’s production company, Half Straddle: http://www.halfstraddle.com/ Reality Winner’s interview with Rolling Stone: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/reality-winner-interview-prison-nsa-1261844/ 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.