Spying 101

The glamour and thrill of espionage, brought to life on screen by characters such as James Bond, have long captivated imaginations. But this profession is deeply misunderstood, and it is always changing. Today, spycraft hangs in the balance as new technologies emerge and societies change. 


September 1, 2021 — 33:32 min
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Gabrielle Sierra

Podcast Host and Producer Full Bio

Episode Guests

Emily Harding

Deputy Director and Senior Fellow, International Security Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies

Edward Lucas

Senior Fellow, Center for European Policy Analysis

Show Notes

In 2020, the United States appropriated more than $85 billion for the National Intelligence Program. However, most people misunderstand the day-to-day activities of the intelligence community. Behind the glamourous Hollywood depictions, is an entire ecosystem of agencies staffed with analysts who work around the clock to gather information. Without them, U.S. security and national defense would be in the dark. 


But espionage must adapt to meet twenty-first-century developments. With the advent of the internet, social media, facial-recognition software, and digital surveillance, being a spy has become nearly impossible. The world continues to change, and spycraft must innovate to meet the mark.


Dig Deeper 


From Edward Lucas


The Spycraft Revolution,” Foreign Policy


From Emily Harding


Four Talking Points for Biden’s Address to the Intelligence Community,” CSIS


Kaseya Ransomware Attack Demands Action to Match Rhetoric,” CSIS


Holding Moscow Accountable for its Criminal Networks,” CSIS


The Intelligence Community’s Annual Threat Assessment,” CSIS 


From CFR


The Declining Market for Secrets,” Zachery Tyson Brown and Carmen A. Medina, Foreign Affairs


Cyber Week in Review: March 26, 2021,” Adam Segal


The Future of Espionage with Emily Harding,” Gabrielle Sierra and Emily Harding

Voter, You’ve Been Hacked,”  Gabrielle Sierra, Joseph Marks, Malcolm Nance, and Laura Rosenberger


How the Afghan Army Collapsed Under the Taliban’s Pressure,” Max Boot


Read More


China’s Spies Are on the Offensive,” Atlantic 


The people’s panopticon: The promise of open-source intelligence,” Economist 


Decade After Cold War’s End, U.S.-Russia Espionage Rivalry Evolves,” NPR 


Watch and Listen


The Spycast Podcast, International Spy Museum 

I Spy, Foreign Policy



Gabrielle SIERRA:  Just for fun, would you be up for like lightning round ranking the following popular spy portrayals on a scale of like 1 to 10, for accuracy? 

Edward LUCAS:  If I've seen them, I'll do my best.

SIERRA: Okay, so obviously, we have to start with James Bond. 

LUCAS:  Am I allowed to give negative scores? 

SIERRA: Absolutely you are. 

LUCAS: I mean, James Bond bears as much relation to espionage as The Lion King does to natural history. But it's great for the MI6 brand. They never complain.

SIERRA: Good recruitment. Okay. What about The Americans?

LUCAS: I think quite plausible. There are Russian illegals and from what we know about them, that wasn't, it's not as exciting as The Americans but I would give that a six.

SIERRA: Ooh, okay. That's great. What about the Mission Impossible franchise? 

LUCAS:  Bambi. I'm surprised you didn’t ask me about the Bourne Identity.

SIERRA:   Go ahead, what is it?

LUCAS: I've done Bambi, and I've done The Lion King. I think this is Pinocchio.

SIERRA: This is why I didn't ask. 


Bridge of Spies: In the name of God, why are we hanging him….he’s a spy.


The Spy Who Came In From the Cold: What the hell do you think spies are? Moral philosophers measuring everything they do against the word of God or Karl Marx? They’re not.


The Americans: You’re going to have to make a decision to commit to this life or get out. It’s not easy and it doesn’t always end well.

Spy content is huge in popular culture.  Ever since the Cold War, the appetite for spy books, spy movies, and spy shows has been insatiable. But behind the Hollywood treatment is a real profession. It consumes billions of dollars a year, and it fuels the decisions of world leaders and militaries on a daily basis. Without it, countries would be left vulnerable to catastrophe. 

And yet it remains deeply misunderstood. Most of the Hollywood images bear almost no resemblance to the daily work of the intelligence community, known to insiders as “the IC.” The reality is fascinating, in its own way, and the reality is also changing in the era of the internet, spyware, and artificial intelligence. 

I’m Gabrielle Sierra and this is Why It Matters. Today, how spying really works. 

SIERRA:  I think we should start by getting our terminology in order. What is espionage?

LUCAS:  Espionage is finding stuff out, usually on behalf of governments, and usually involving some kind of rule-breaking. If it's not involving rule-breaking, then it's basically journalism.

This is Edward Lucas, he’s a journalist and a Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis. He has written several books about espionage.

SIERRA:  So then, by contrast, what is intelligence?

LUCAS:  Intelligence is the product of espionage, strictly speaking, so you can have raw intelligence, which is just the stuff that your spies or your code crackers have found out, and then that's processed and analyzed, verified, and then becomes intelligence product, which is what is sent to decision-makers, for example, in the Presidential Daily Brief. And then that hopefully, allows them to make better-informed decisions about the threats and opportunities facing their country.

Emily HARDING: Intelligence is this somewhat amorphous broad concept that means finding the information that your government needs wherever it happens to reside, pulling it together, and presenting it in a usable fashion. 

This is Emily Harding. She used to be an analyst at the CIA, where she eventually led the Iraq Group. She was also deputy director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and worked on its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Nowadays she is a Senior Fellow and Deputy Director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

HARDING: You want to be able to say hey, there's this big development out there that's coming that you need to be ready for. You wanna try to reduce uncertainty for the policymakers so that they can try to make the best policies possible. Espionage is one way to go about gathering that intelligence. So espionage is going about stealing the secrets generally speaking from people. So recruiting an asset in the field who can do something like, tell you about the intentions of a foreign government. Those are often the hardest things to learn and collect. What is a foreign government planning to do? What are they intending to do with their policy? That's not the kind of thing that you can usually get from open-source or figure out in other ways. You really need somebody who's well-placed on the inside to just tell you these things. And so we have very well-trained professionals who go all around the world and try to recruit assets to conduct espionage.

Spies like jargon. And along the way, we are going to have to break a bit of that down for you. So, in the movies, James Bond will typically break into the enemy headquarters to steal a key piece of information or technology. In real life, that’s actually not a very effective strategy.  Most real-world spying is done by assets. That is someone who is already inside the organization, city, or country you are spying on. Someone who has access, someone who blends in. 

And how do you convince someone to spy on their own country? Well, that is the work of an operations officer. These are the people working for the CIA, or some other agency, who have the tough job of finding people to provide or steal secrets. They recruit them, monitor them, protect them, and when the time is right, assist them in obtaining the information.

That information is then funneled back to the CIA, or another agency, where it is processed by analysts. These are the people who interpret and piece together bits of intelligence, kind of like a puzzle. 

Each role is important, and each serves a very specific purpose. 

LUCAS: On the whole, espionage is much less interesting than anything in fiction, because so much of it takes so long. And so sitting around waiting for things to happen is a very important part of the espionage world and acting very slowly, because mistakes are very expensive and can be lethal. That doesn't come across very well when you're looking at trying to fill a 90 minute Hollywood blockbuster. 

SIERRA: No definitely not.

LUCAS: But I suppose the key thing is that the people who do the spying usually are recruited by intelligence officers and so the intelligence officers job is to find a potential source, to recruit them, to run them, if necessary to get them out of trouble if they're close to getting caught. And those are all serious skills, you have to be really good at doing that. Actually, stealing the secret may be a matter of emptying waste paper baskets at the right time, or sticking a USB drive into a computer, or doing something other that can be rather less skilled and less glamorous. So when we say spying, that encompasses both the actual stealing of the secret, and then the huge array of highly trained intelligence officers who cause all that to happen, and those are two slightly different things.

SIERRA: So let's zoom out to 30,000 feet just for a moment. What is the ultimate goal of espionage? Why do governments need it?

LUCAS: The ultimate goal is better decision-making. That's the most important thing and then quite an important secondary goal is to find out if other countries are spying on you. Because if they know your secrets, and you don't know theirs, they will negotiate better. 

Intelligence successes typically go unsung - the Allied forces cracking the Enigma code during World War II, U.S. intelligence identifying missiles on Cuba in 1962, and the CIA predicting the outcome to the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, to name a few.

We hear a lot more about the failures. The 9/11 Commission Report identified a series of intelligence shortcomings in the run-up to the attack, and these failings became a permanent part of how the tragedy is publically understood. When intelligence does its job, almost nobody knows.  When it fails, everyone does. 

HARDING: Pearl Harbor is the first case study that they teach you when you come on board at The Agency as an analyst, where they talk about why you need intelligence, why you need intelligence analysts. With Pearl Harbor, there were a lot of indications and warnings out there about what the Japanese might be planning to do, that there was perhaps a large attack underway. But because that information was scattered to a bunch of different places around what was then the Defense Department, nobody really pulled them all together to come up with a complete picture and be able to provide that indication and warning. So they created the OSS, and the OSS then evolved to become the CIA. And the goal really was to take all these little pieces of information, pull them together for a coherent picture, and then provide something usable to the policymaker. A good friend of mine says that intelligence work is less about connecting the dots and more about pointillism, like those famous pieces of artwork. Where you take all these little tiny pieces of information you have, and you try to pull them together into a coherent picture. So that's why we need intelligence. Some of those dots are open source. Some of those dots are in the media or discoverable out there on the internet, but a great many of them also are highly secret. They come from those human spies that we were talking about. They come from signals intelligence when you pull up conversations or you pull metadata from electronic communications. And those kinds of capabilities need to be kept secret for various reasons. So that's why we need an intelligence service.

SIERRA: All right. So this sounds like a ton of people, a ton of steps, a lot of time. So I guess the question is how much does this all cost?

HARDING: Billions of dollars, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to the defense budget. 

When Emily says billions, she means billions. In 2020, the intelligence community appropriated $85.8 billion dollars. That’s a lot, almost four times as much as the government spent on the space program. But, as Emily points out, it’s only a fraction of the $778 billion that the country spent on overall defense last year. 

HARDING: I think that people tend to focus on the size of the defense budget and think about, you know, the big ships and things. And those are all game-changers in the United States' security picture, but with the intelligence community, you get a lot of bang for your buck. Some collection programs are exceedingly expensive. You know, we have exquisite satellites that do really cool things and they cost lots and lots of money. We also have very low-cost partnerships with commercial companies that are collecting satellite imagery as well. And we put those two pictures together to come up with a good coherent picture for our policymakers. So it's expensive. But you definitely get information that you won’t get anywhere else.

And there are a lot of different organizations collecting that information. Right now, there are 18 intelligence agencies within the US, including Space Force Intelligence, which was added this year. You may not have even heard of several of them before, like The National Geospatial Agency, which used satellite and drone technology to map Osama Bin Laden's compound, allowing Navy SEALs to simulate and prepare for their mission.

HARDING: The way that it works is that there are intelligence agencies that are connected to each one of the military services, and then also small intelligence agencies that serve kind of a niche function connected to a bunch of different departments and agencies. So like the Department of Energy has its own tiny intelligence service. The Department of State has its own intelligence service. And each one of those smaller agencies is very tightly focused on the needs of the top customers in their building. On the other hand, there are also big overarching what we call all source intelligence agencies like CIA and DIA, that are looking at all the different sources of information and trying to pull them together for a broader customer set. 

Along with the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defence Intelligence Agency, there’s another major player: the NSA, or National Security Agency. The joke used to be that those letters stood for “no such agency,” because of its extreme secrecy. The NSA’s original purpose was to protect secret messages from other government agencies and to break enemy codes. These days it has gotten very, very good at hacking.  

With each of these agencies, there is a constant churn, millions of data points, thousands of analysts interpreting what’s found. All of it feeding a constant series of decisions large and small. 

SIERRA: So who uses all of this intelligence?  Is it the President? 

HARDING: So the president isn't the biggest consumer by quantity. The president certainly gets anything that he wants, gets the most classified information, the least classified information. Any question the president has gets answered. As far as quantity goes though, it has to be the US Military. They get both the tactical intelligence from the battlefield like, "What's over that next hill? What does the enemy planning on doing tomorrow? What IEDs are waiting for us out on the battlefield," they get that super tactical intelligence picture, but then they also get the strategic intelligence picture like for example, with the current case of Afghanistan, "Are the Taliban planning to negotiate in good faith? What role is Pakistan playing in those negotiations? What potential interests does Iran have in the US withdrawal from Afghanistan?" So the military is taking in intelligence at every single level and at various levels of detail as well, to serve a vast need for information.

As a side note, it’s worth mentioning that since these interviews were recorded, there has been an intense debate about the role of intelligence in the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, as well as the future of our intelligence capabilities in the region. It’s a deep and complex issue, and it could be the topic of its own episode. We won’t be getting into it today, but you can find a lot of related coverage on CFR.org if you’re interested.

SIERRA: Ok so to just go back to the President, how does he or she receive and use intelligence? 

HARDING: So the president, being the president, gets to know anything he or she wants. Every day the intelligence community puts together what we call the book for the president. And the book will include anywhere from five to 10 pieces that talk about strategic developments, that talk about tactical developments, that reveal what's going on around the world. The president might spend an hour in the morning working on the PDB and getting their intelligence briefing. However, somebody like the DNI who's now Avril Haines, their only job is working on the business of intelligence. 

The DNI, or Director of National Intelligence, was a role created in 2004 to oversee and centralize a complex network of U.S. intelligence agencies. It was developed in response to 9/11. They are responsible for promoting the sharing of information by easing institutional and operational barriers. 

HARDING: But it's still the president's intelligence and he can have anything he wants. Really each president crafts this process exactly how he likes it. So President Obama, he really enjoyed reading, so he would take his book and actually do a lot of reading of the book and do a lot of notes on it. President Trump apparently was more into graphics and liked graphic depictions of what was going on and wanted to talk things through. President Bush, the second President Bush, he was a voracious consumer of intelligence. And he really liked not only a really robust book to read, but he liked to have conversations. So he would actually invite analysts into the Oval to have conversations about the pieces that they'd written to do a deep dive on a particular subject. So each president really shapes the PDB the way that they most want to use it and the way that's most useful for them.

SIERRA: That's a lot of power in one person's hands to decide.


SIERRA: What they hear and pay attention to.

HARDING: It is. And there's always this very careful dance between telling the President things that he's gonna be interested in or they're gonna be useful, and then telling him things that he really doesn't want to hear. The story about telling truth to power, that old adage, it's 100% true. 

SIERRA: So do separate agencies ever produce conflicting information?

HARDING: Yes. So this was one of the big takeaways after 9/11 and also after the Iraq War. What you want in the intelligence community is not duplication, not redundancy, but a really robust exchange of views. And it makes sense for several agencies to be looking at the same sets of data and then perhaps taking different interpretations or competing interpretations. One of the things that is required as an analyst at CIA, is that before you write any piece, you have to send your draft around to the entire inter-agency, all the intelligence agencies, and say, “Any comments?” And if somebody comes back and says, “Well, I think you've misinterpreted this point. Or, "I think that you should adjust this language to be more precise.” Then you try your best to incorporate all of those comments. But every once in a while somebody will come back and say, “I think you've got this totally wrong, you're totally missing the point here. Your analysis is bad. And I think it's actually this instead.” Then we publish something called a dissent. And that's really important for the intellectual honesty of intelligence analysis. And also just to let the policymaker know that there's not one way to look at this. 

A high-priority briefing could influence a president’s decision to take military action. But intelligence also gets used in things as seemingly innocuous as trade negotiations. At the military level, a briefing might be about something as granular as whether a bridge can bear the weight of a tank crossing it, and as far-reaching as nuclear security. 

The flow has been there for a long time. But the methods, challenges, and opportunities for the intelligence community have been changing. And to understand how spying really happens these days, we have to start with the old days of World War II and the Cold War that followed. You know, the era of Russian and American spies that inspired so many classic novels and films. 


Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: I suppose that’s where it began, turning my eyes to the East, I saw how trivial we’d become as a nation, say mid-40s...

SIERRA: Can you give me a quick summary of, sort of, the good old days of espionage?

LUCAS: In the old days, you could pretend to be someone just by claiming to be them. You could say I am so-and-so and if you spoke the right language and had the right clothes and seemed quite confident. It was quite hard for any before the days of say, fingerprints, and photographs, it was really quite hard to check if someone wasn't who they said they were. So perhaps the greatest British spy ever, Paul Dukes happened to speak really, really good Russian. And he turned up in Russia after the revolution, and actually played the piano in the canteen of the secret police headquarters, which is a perfect place for him to run his agents. He borrowed money from British merchants who are still hanging on there hoping that communism was temporary. And he was perhaps the most successful British spy ever. And everything he did would be completely impossible now. Because he was able to bluff his way into things where nowadays they'd be saying, well, hang on where your documents? How do you get into the country? Where's your passport? All these all these questions. And so the ability to pretend to be someone who you're not, which is absolutely central to espionage is getting harder all the time.

SIERRA:  So you mentioned that things have changed since the old days. And I want to understand, why? So let's start with technology.

LUCAS: Technology means that we leave a kind of digital snail's trail, everywhere we go, you carry a mobile phone with you, probably 2 billion people in the world, have mobile phones or access to them, carry them with them all of the time, we live our lives on social media, we have Instagram accounts and LinkedIn, 750 million LinkedIn, 2 billion on Facebook. And we have credit ratings. Very particularly in the advanced industrial societies, and we pay with electronic money, credit cards, for example, or online payments. And all this leaves a kind of digital trail completely innocent, in most cases, it's not particularly interesting to know that I got up in the morning, I went out, I bought a coffee with a card, and I went swimming and didn't take my phone with me. But I was no doubt caught on the CCTV at the swimming place, and so on. But you can put all these things together, and they start building a very clear picture. So you say, who is this person who doesn't have a mobile phone? That's really surprising. If someone has a mobile phone, then that's basically a tracking beacon, you can say, when's it been switched on last? Where do they go? Even if you can't get access to the actual calls and texts and things that they've used the mobile phone for just as a geolocation device, it's a really powerful tool. And the absence of it is a really powerful tool. So you put all these things together, and it becomes really hard to be anonymous, particularly if you then add the biometrics, the facial recognition, the way in which you can make a computer image of the way someone walks, so-called gate analysis. And you just see only one person, the world walks like that. And he's walking down the street in Beijing right now, and we want to know why, bang, you know, that's a really powerful tool for the counterintelligence people.

SIERRA:  That's wild. I love that the technology points out that if someone has a lack of presence on those things, it's just as suspicious. I feel the same way, when I look up someone my friends are dating and I'm like, well, they're not on these things, seem suspicious. So I guess that translates all the way up to this as well.

LUCAS: Yes, I mean, it used to be that it was quite easy to create a sort of plausible seeming identity, that would stand up to really quite a lot of scrutiny. And now it's really difficult if you turn up in Russia, or in China, pretending to be someone you're not, the consequences of getting it wrong are catastrophic. And the margin for error is very, very small.

SIERRA:  Is it also that technology has provided a cheaper, safer way of getting information? 

LUCAS: Yes, one of the sort of sayings in the Espionage world is that when one door closes, another door opens. And we're able to find out a lot more about our adversaries, thanks to technology. So the sort of things that Bellingcat has done, and they're not an intelligence agency, that are kind of private intelligence agency. But they've been able to catch Russian spies by basically googling and buying commercially available information. And it's really impressive what you can do. So this is clearly something that helps us on the counterintelligence side. But in terms of aggressive intelligence collection, if you're trying to get alongside say, someone in China who's got access to secrets when you want to get hold of them in a way that the Chinese authorities are never going to find out. That is becoming really difficult. It's not impossible, but it's really difficult.

SIERRA: And I would assume more dangerous.

LUCAS:  Dangerous for them certainly, and in fact that there was a very serious breach in the CIA's communication software a few years ago, which led to every single, it is said, CIA assets in China being caught and executed. Because the way that they had for their agents to communicate, involved a brilliantly thought out piece of kind of anonymous software. But the trouble is, once the Chinese worked out what it was, they were then able to spot everyone who was using it. So the potential for catastrophe is much, much higher And increasingly, people are going for different ways of doing intelligence rather than the old-fashioned cover identity.

SIERRA:  Are there specific ways that artificial intelligence in particular is changing the game?

LUCAS:  Absolutely. Artificial Intelligence is the secret sauce here because we've known for ages that it's possible to collect huge amounts of data. You hack into Facebook, and you get the 2 billion Facebook accounts and you can, presumably, the Chinese can do that. What makes it really impressive is when you look for the anomalies. And so you see, it's put together that with the mobile phone database, and lots of sort of Google searches. And I want to find everyone who's been to China, whose face appears under one account on Facebook, and who is using a burner phone when they come to China or something like that. And that's the sort of thing that AI is really good at spotting the oddities. And the oddities may just be somebody lives a very odd life and happens to use a different burner phone every time they go on a foreign trip or happens to like having Facebook identities that are not their own. But on the whole, these oddities are tremendously powerful clues for counter-intelligence people. And the development of AI means we get better and better at finding them in big sets of data.

HARDING: So, Compute really is the future of the intelligence enterprise. There will never be a substitution for, you know, somebody recruiting the exact right asset at the exact right time, who's gonna tell you what the adversary government is thinking. But, there is so much information out there in the world just sitting and waiting to be used and there are some companies and corporations out there who are already starting to compete with the intelligence community on taking all the information and compiling it in a usable form and that is going to be I think, a competition challenge for the IC. They're gonna have to figure out what do we buy off the shelf from some of these companies and then what do we try and, and recreate in house ourselves and where does the secret line really come in? So, in my job right now I'm working on a whole set of projects on how to make better use of what you call open-source intelligence. And, this is traditionally you know, like The New York Times.

SIERRA: Right.

HARDING: Or you know, some kind of foreign broadcasting services information. But, now it's much more than that. It's the digital dust that's scattered all over the internet and how can you lien usable information from that digital dust. I think that as we move forward, we're gonna need those data scientists, we're gonna need those coders, we're gonna need the really super talented hackers who are just desperately clever at getting around security constraints and stealing the secrets that way. And there just are not enough data scientists out there to both feed the giant sucking sound in Silicon Valley, and then also feed the US government and specifically the intelligence community. And, you know, speaking as a former government employee, I think what we were always really hoping for when I was hiring people, was that the mission would be compelling and would pull in the best talent.

SIERRA: What do you see as the biggest intelligence priorities for the US right now? 

HARDING: Like I said, the Russians are the Russians and you gotta give a lot of respect to those guys for the work that they've done, you know my work on the 2016 election at the same time as I really hate everything that they did, you also gotta give them some grudging respect for how well they did some of it. I would say though that the number one intelligence challenge for us right now is China. And, that's because they are talented at what they do. Their intelligence services are very talented. But, they also have figured out a way to forcibly co-opt huge percentages of their population to help the state. So, if you're a Chinese business, if you are a business based in China, maybe you're not officially a state-owned enterprise but, you know where your bread is buttered and if the Chinese government comes to you and says "I need A, B, and C." Then you're gonna give it to them. So, I think that China is both smart and well resourced and we as Americans are just not used to the concept that somebody who says they're here to do business is also working on behalf of the government and it's taken us a minute to get smart on that and to really recognize the threat.

It can be hard to know what to make of all of this. As the 18 intelligence services of the United States compete with parallel organizations in places like Russia and China, most of what happens remains secret. We know from the past that there have been mistakes, and even injustices, carried out in the name of intelligence. On the other hand, we don’t have a way of knowing how many times tragedies have been averted. 

SIERRA: So it seems like secrecy is the thing here. So as everyday people, how can we assess the value of espionage if we never get to know the details and aren't really aware of the results? Should we just trust that the world has been saved without us knowing about it?

LUCAS: Well, I think what you can certainly do is question your elected representatives about the amount of money that's going in. I think that one can question the results in terms of, is my country safer, and when there's clearly something gone very badly wrong, as it did with 9/11. You can say, well, hey, you know, you're paid all this money to catch these people. Why didn't you? And so after the event, if something's gone wrong, it's harder to ask when things have gone, right, because obviously, the sources and methods involved are quite precious and one doesn't want to expose them. So in the end, as it was so many things in a democratic society, quite a lot has to be taken on trust. But that doesn't mean you can't try and verify it when the opportunity arises.

SIERRA: What type of position do you think we would be in as a country without this flow of intelligence?

HARDING: I mean, a very difficult one. We'd be in a very difficult position. This goes back to George Washington and the very earliest days of our country. And we talk about George Washington as the earliest spymaster. He had a ring of spies that were called the Culper Ring, during the revolutionary war and they were letting him know what the Brits were up to, where they were moving, he had both that tactical and that strategic intelligence. Today, I mean, we're up against a Russian intelligence service that is just as talented, if not more so than they were in the Cold War. China has figured out, not only how to run a top-notch intelligence service, but then also how to co-opt massive elements of society to help those intelligence services do their work. And then, you know, there are, there are other top-notch intel services all over the world and if we try to keep American interests strong around the world without the insights provided by the intelligence community, I think we would have a very difficult time trying to keep up with these other nations, but then just trying to anticipate threats and preempt them before they happen. We talk a lot in the spy game about how, you know, a good day is when the bad thing does not happen because you warned ahead of time and it was prevented by good policies. Usually, you know, what gets out in the press is when the bad thing actually does happen and the intelligence has failed, but we, we really enjoy the good days when something that could've been a problem is no longer a problem because we warned about it ahead of time.

Hey listeners, so our summer intern Sophie Yass is heading back to school and we will miss her dearly. In honor of her last day here, here she is reading us out.

Thanks Gabby!

For resources used in this episode and more information, visit CFR.org/whyitmatters and take a look at our show notes.

Have a question, some feedback, just want to say hey? Send us an email at [email protected]

Subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your audio. And if you’re a fan, we’d love it if you could leave us a review. Ideally a good one, it really does help, and we really appreciate it.

Why It Matters is a production of the Council on Foreign Relations. The show is created and produced by Asher Ross, Jeremy Sherlick, and Gabrielle Sierra. Our sound designer is Markus Zakaria. Rafaela Siewert is our associate podcast producer. This Summer’s intern was me, Sophie Yass.  

Robert McMahon is our Managing Editor, and Doug Halsey is our Chief Digital Officer. Extra help for this episode was provided by John Masters and Kali Robinson. Original music is composed by Ceiri Torjussen. Special thanks go to Richard Haass and Jeff Reinke. 

For Why It Matters, this is Sophie Yass signing off. Thanks for listening.


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For years, large corporations have exploited international tax laws to pay less taxes. But last year, 137 countries backed a potential solution: a 15 percent corpora...

For years, large corporations have exploited international tax laws to pay less taxes. But last year, 137 countries backed a potential solution: a 15 percent corpora...

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How can the world create better medicines? More powerful solar cells? New batteries? The answers could come from a revolutionary research tool known as the quantum c...

How can the world create better medicines? More powerful solar cells? New batteries? The answers could come from a revolutionary research tool known as the quantum c...

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The world is already witnessing the effects of climate change. One inescapable and irreversible consequence is sea-level rise, which could destroy coastal cities. Ho...

The world is already witnessing the effects of climate change. One inescapable and irreversible consequence is sea-level rise, which could destroy coastal cities. Ho...

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In this special episode, Why It Matters sits down with CFR President Richard Haass to ask the basic questions about the war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Pu...

In this special episode, Why It Matters sits down with CFR President Richard Haass to ask the basic questions about the war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Pu...

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The world is moving toward electric vehicles and clean energy, but a green future doesn’t depend on wind turbines, solar panels, and Teslas alone. It will also requi...

The world is moving toward electric vehicles and clean energy, but a green future doesn’t depend on wind turbines, solar panels, and Teslas alone. It will also requi...

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Why It Matters is back for a fifth season, asking the important questions about the global issues, problems, and trends that will affect the future. What role does A...

Why It Matters is back for a fifth season, asking the important questions about the global issues, problems, and trends that will affect the future. What role does A...

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Last summer, China tested a hypersonic missile that traveled through orbit. The test shocked many observers and led to widespread concern about the potential for nuc...

Last summer, China tested a hypersonic missile that traveled through orbit. The test shocked many observers and led to widespread concern about the potential for nuc...

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Top Stories on CFR

Immigration and Migration

Women and Women's Rights

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed the constitutional right to abortion for almost fifty years. How does regulation of abortion in the United States compare to that in the rest of the world?

World Trade Organization (WTO)

WTO members confounded expectations last week by concluding a deal on fisheries subsidies, the first major multilateral agreement in nearly a decade. But the trade body is not out of the woods yet.