The Lawfare Podcast
Chatter: ‘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 video "It's Almost Like the Russians Don't Negotiate in Good Faith": A Video Parable.
The video U.S. Ukrainian Activists Presents Umbrella Boy
The podcast #LiveFromUkraine: Katya Savchenko Survived Bucha—and Wrote About It
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.
Justin Sherman on Regulating the Data Broker Industry54:04The data broker industry and its role in the digital economy is under scrutiny from Congress. Lawfare Senior Editor Stephanie Pell sat down with Justin Sherman, the Founder and CEO of Global Cyber Strategies and a Senior Fellow at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, to discuss the data broker ecosystem and the recent article he published in Lawfare about two bills from a previous congress that seek to give consumers more control over the information that data brokers collect and sell about them. They talked about some of the scams and other harms caused by data brokers, the regulatory approaches taken by each bill, and whether federal legislation regulating data brokers will get passed.
Chatter: Genealogy and Intelligence Analysis with Lisa Maddox01:18:32Shane and David have hosted many former intelligence officers, mostly of the American variety, during more than 80 episodes so far on Chatter. But, until this week, you haven't heard us speak with one who has turned her intelligence experience into a career as a professional genealogist. Lisa Maddox of Family History Investigations has carved out that unique path, and her story reveals much about the nature and wider applicability of analytic skills.David Priess talked to Lisa about her entry into the national security world; the role of intelligence within the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS); differences and similarities among NCIS, DIA, and CIA; her work at CIA as an analyst and manager of analysts; the research, analytic, and presentational aspects of intelligence analysis; structured analytic techniques; the coordination process within the Intelligence Community; the discipline of targeting analysis; her decision to start a genealogy business; how the elements of analysis apply to genealogical work; and more.Among the works mentioned in this episode:The TV show NCISThe TV show Finding Your RootsThe book Vanished Kingdoms by Norman DaviesThe book Demon Copperhead by Barbara KingsolverChatter 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.
Dam Breaks and Pipeline Bombings01:08:09A large dam on the Dnipro River has been destroyed, causing massive flooding and a dangerous environmental catastrophe in southern Ukraine. The Ukrainians are blaming the Russians; the Russians are blaming the Ukrainians. Meanwhile, the Washington Post is reporting that the CIA was actually tipped off about the coming destruction of the Nord Stream pipelines last year—and that it was tipped off that a Ukrainian military team was planning to do it. The blockbuster story is the latest bit of evidence that the Nord Stream operation was, after all, not the Russians, but the Ukrainians. Lawfare Editor-in-Chief Benjamin Wittes sat down in three conversations to discuss the goings on. First, he spoke with Eric Ciaramella, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and a former CIA analyst and NSC official on Russia and Ukraine, about the scope and scale of the damage the dam break has done. Then Ben spoke with Dmitri Alperovitch, Chairman of the Silverado Policy Accelerator, about the military implications of the dam break. And he spoke with Shane Harris, one of the reporters whose name is on that Washington Post story byline, about his story and what it all means for the future of the Ukraine war.
How is Lula Doing?41:47On January 1, 2023, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was sworn in as president of Brazil. A week later, insurrectionists in Brazil stormed government buildings, including the president’s palace, the Supreme Federal Court, and the National Congress building to violently disrupt the democratic transition of power and challenge the results of the election. Lula, however, remained undeterred and forged ahead. It’s been roughly 150 days since those events, and Lawfare Legal Fellow Saraphin Dhanani sat down with Brian Winter, Editor-in-Chief of Americas Quarterly and a journalist with over a decade of experience living and reporting across Latin America, to discuss how Lula has fared in his first 100 days in office, his vision for reviving Brazil’s place in the world, and the political forces he’s up against.
Catching up with Jack Smith's Mar-A-Lago Investigation01:02:24On May 31, CNN reported that federal prosecutors investigating the unlawful removal of classified documents from the White House to Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence have obtained an audio recording in which the former president acknowledges that he knowingly kept a classified Department of Defense document that contained details about a potential attack on Iran. According to CNN, the tape indicates that Trump “understood he retained classified material after leaving the White House.”Trump’s alleged comments made on the recording have sparked a debate about whether he will be charged with violating 18 U.S.C. 793(e) of the Espionage Act.What exactly did Trump say on the tape? Did he violate the Espionage Act? How does this change Special Counsel Jack Smith’s investigations? And what does all of this mean for Trump’s reelection campaign? To go over everything that happened, Lawfare Editor-in-Chief Benjamin Wittes sat down for a live recording of the podcast alongside Lawfare Senior Editors Scott R. Anderson, Quinta Jurecic, and Roger Parloff, who unpack all of these questions and more.
Gabe Rottman on the Justice Department's New Guidelines on Press Subpoenas39:53It's been about six months since the Attorney General issued new guidelines on compulsory process to members of the press in criminal and national security investigations, and two officials of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press—Bruce Brown and Gabe Rottman—wrote a detailed analysis of the document in two parts for Lawfare. Rottman joined Lawfare Editor-in-Chief Benjamin Wittes to go through the document carefully: the long history that led to it, the shifting policies that have gotten more restrictive over the years since the Supreme Court ruled in Branzburg v. Hayes, the ramp-up of leak investigations and reporter subpoenas in the Obama and Trump administrations, and the new policy that creates a red line policy against them under most (but not all) circumstances. They talked about the document, about why the Justice Department has forsworn a historic and upheld authority, and about what it means for reporters and criminal investigations going forward.
Rational Security: The “Pun Moll” Edition01:16:31This week, Alan, Quinta, and Scott were joined by their Brookings and Lawfare colleague Molly Reynolds to talk all things Congress in the week’s national security news, including:Shattering the Must-Pass Ceiling.” Earlier this week, President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced a deal on raising the debt ceiling, and thereby avoiding a potential financial catastrophe. The question now is whether they can sell it to enough members of Congress, where right-wing members of McCarthy’s caucus are promising to sink it. Will the deal make it through? And if not, what might come next?“Recep Tayyip Erdo-won.” After a close fought contest, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has emerged victorious from run-offs in Türkiye’s national elections, positioning him for a third term in office and a third decade in power. Does the reelection of the increasingly autocratic figure mean the further decline of Turkish democracy? And Türkiye’s flagging relationship with the West?“I’m Sorry, Dave. I’m Afraid That’s Not Regulation.” The head of several leading AI developers are actively urging Congress to regulate the industry—even as they continue to roll out new products to the public with untested capabilities. How seriously should we take this plea? And is it aimed at the right risk?
Lawfare Archive: Rosa Brooks on ‘How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything’53:21From October 1, 2016: At this week's Hoover Book Soiree, Rosa Brooks joined Benjamin Wittes to talk about her new book, “How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon.” The book covers an extraordinary range of territory, from Brooks' personal experiences working as a civilian advisor at the Pentagon, to the history of the laws of war, to an analysis of the U.S. military's expanded role in a world in which the lines between war and peace are increasingly uncertain.How should we think about the military’s responsibilities outside the realm of traditional warfare? And is it desirable, or even possible, to rethink the way we approach the distinctions between wartime and peacetime?
Ukraine Is Not Dead Yet34:44It is often said that “Russia is a country with an unpredictable past.” Such distortions of history can lead to trouble, as the world witnessed last year when Vladimir Putin justified his invasion of Ukraine as an attempt to “denazify” the neighboring country—one with a Jewish president who lost relatives in the Holocaust. As Megan Buskey writes in her new memoir, “Ukraine Is Not Dead Yet: A Family Story of Exile and Return”: “How could a country know itself unless it knew all the things it had been?”Lawfare Managing Editor Tyler McBrien sat down with Megan, a nonfiction writer and former Fulbright Fellow to Ukraine, who has studied and written about the country for two decades. They discussed her book, the use and abuse of history in Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and the role of family histories in countering those false narratives. They also talked about the best way to get a Polish archive to give you the documents you need. Please note that this episode contains content that some people may find disturbing, including descriptions of sexual and other forms of violence. Listener discretion is advised.