In this episode, I interview Thomas Rid about his illuminating study of Russian disinformation, Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare. It lays out a century of Soviet, East European, and Russian disinformation, beginning with an elaborate and successful operation against the White Russian expatriate resistance to Bolshevik rule in the 1920s. Rid has dug into recently declassified material using digital tools that enable him to tell previously untold tales – the Soviets’ remarkable success in turning opposition to US nuclear missiles in Europe into a mass movement (and the potential shadow it casts on the legendary Adm. Hyman Rickover, father of the US nuclear navy), the unimpressive record of US disinformation compared to the ruthless Soviet version, and the fake American lobbyist (and real German agent) who persuaded a German conservative legislator to save Willy Brandt’s leftist government. We close with two very different predictions about the kind of disinformation we’ll see in the 2020 campaign.


Continue Reading Episode 312: Russia’s online disinformation has a 100-year history

If your podcast feed has suddenly become a steady diet of more or less the same COVID-19 stories, here’s a chance to listen to cyber experts talk about what they know about – cyberlaw. Our interview is with Elsa Kania, adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and one of the most prolific students of China, technology, and national security. We talk about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the artificial intelligence ecosystems in the two countries.


Continue Reading Episode 306: The (almost) COVID-19-free episode

This week’s episode includes an interview with Bruce Schneier about his recent op-ed on privacy. Bruce and I are both dubious about the current media trope that facial recognition technology was spawned by the Antichrist. He notes that what we are really worried about is a lot bigger than facial recognition and offers ways in which the law could address our deeper worry. I’m less optimistic about our ability to write or enforce laws designed to restrict use of information that gets cheaper to collect, to correlate, and to store every year. It’s a good, civilized exchange.


Continue Reading Episode 296: Is CCPA short for “Law of Unintended Consequences”?

This Week in the Great Decoupling: The Commerce Department has rolled out proposed telecom and supply chain security rules that never once mention China. More accurately, the Department has rolled out a sketch of its preliminary thinking about proposed rules. Brian Egan and I tackle the substance and history of the proposal and conclude that the government is still fighting about the content of a policy it’s already announced. And to show that decoupling can go both ways, a US-based chip-tech group is moving to Switzerland to reassure its Chinese participants. Nick Weaver and I conclude that there’s a little less here than Reuters seems to think.


Continue Reading Episode 290: The Right to be Forgotten Shoots the Shark

The Foreign Agent Registration Act is having a moment – in fact its best year since 1939, as the Justice Department charges three people with spying on Twitter users for Saudi Arabia. Since they were clearly acting like spies but not stealing government secrets or company intellectual property, FARA seems to be the only law that they could be charged with violating. Nate Jones and I debate whether the Justice Department can make the charges stick.


Continue Reading Episode 287: Plumbing the depths of artificial stupidity

This episode is a wide-ranging interview with Andy Greenberg, author of Sandworm: A New Era of Cyberwar and the Hunt for the Kremlin’s Most Dangerous Hackers. The book contains plenty of original reporting, served up with journalistic flair. It digs deep into some of the most startling and destructive cyberattacks of recent years, from two dangerous attacks on Ukraine’s power grid, to the multibillion-dollar NotPetya, and then to a sophisticated but largely failed effort to bring down the Seoul Olympics and pin the blame on North Korea. Apart from sophisticated coding and irresponsibly indiscriminate targeting, all these episodes have one thing in common. They are all the work of Russia’s GRU.

Andy persuasively sets out the attribution and then asks what kind of corporate culture supports such adventurism – and whether there is a strategic vision behind the GRU’s attacks. The interview convinced me at least that the GRU is pursuing a strategy of muscular nihilism – “our system doesn’t work, but yours too is based on fragile illusions.” It’s a kind of global cyber intifada, with all the dangers and all the self-defeating tactics of the original intifadas. Don’t disagree until you’ve listened!


Continue Reading Episode 286: Sandworm and the GRU’s global intifada

Our guests this week are Paul Scharre from the Center for a New American Security and Greg Allen from the Defense Department’s newly formed Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. Paul and Greg have a lot to say about AI policy, especially with an eye toward national security and strategic competition. Greg sheds some light on DOD’s activity, and Paul helps us understand how the military and policymakers are grappling with this emerging technology. But at the end of the day, I want to know: Are we at risk of losing the AI race with China? Paul and Greg tell me not all hope’s lost – and how we can retain technological leadership.


Continue Reading Episode 274: Will Silicon Valley have to choose between end-to-end crypto and shutting down speech it hates?

We kick off Episode 267 with Gus Hurwitz reading the runes to see whether a 50-year Chicago winter for antitrust plaintiffs is finally thawing in Silicon Valley. Gus thinks the predictions of global antitrust warming are overhyped. But he recognizes we’re seeing an awful lot of robins on the lawn: The rise of Margrethe Vestager in the EU, the enthusiasm of state AGs for suing Big Tech, and the piling on of Dem presidential candidates and the House of Representatives. Judge Koh’s Qualcomm decision is another straw in the wind, triggering criticism from Gus (“an undue extension of Aspen Skiing”) and me (“the FTC needs a national security minder in privacy and competition law”). Matthew Heiman tells me I’m on the wrong page in suggesting that Silicon Valley’s suppression of conservative speech is a detriment to consumer welfare that the antitrust laws should take into account, even in a Borkian world.


Continue Reading Episode 267: “Call me a fascist again and I’ll get the government to shut you up. Worldwide.”

Our News Roundup is hip deep in China stories. The inconclusive EU – China summit gives Matthew Heiman and me a chance to explain why France understands – and hates – China’s geopolitical trade strategy more than most.

Maury Shenk notes that the Pentagon’s reported plan to put a bunch of Chinese suppliers on a blacklist is a bit of a tribute to China’s own list of sectors not open to Western companies. In other China news, Matthew discloses that there’s reason to believe that China has finally begun to use all the US personnel data it stole from OPM. I’m so worried it may yet turn my hair pink, at least for SF-86 purposes.

And in a sign that it really is better to be lucky than to be good, Matthew and I muse on how the Trump Administration’s China policy is coinciding with broader economic trends to force US companies to reconsider their reliance on Chinese manufacturing.


Continue Reading Episode 259: Why France understands Chinese policy better than the rest of us