The transcript from this week’s, MiB: Jack Devine on the CIA, Afghanistan & Russia, is below.
You can stream and download our full conversation, including the podcast extras on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, Google, Bloomberg, and Acast. All of our earlier podcasts on your favorite pod hosts can be found here.
BARRY RITHOLTZ, HOST, MASTERS IN BUSINESS: This weekend on the podcast, I have an extra special guest returning to the show, Jack Devine, 32-year veteran of the CIA. His resume is just too long to go over. We — we talked about a lot of it. He was instrumental in pushing the Russians out of Afghanistan in the 1980s. He helped run the counter-narcotics division of the CIA. He — he’s just had so many roles within the intelligence worlds, really quite — quite an astonishing career.
His new book is all about Russia’s aggression against the West, not in the Cold War era but today, and it’s quite fascinating and very revealing, in particular, how the Russians have so skillfully used social media to foment unrest and anger and essentially turn Americans against each other. They’re not the only reason why the country is having issues, but they are clearly pouring fuel on the fire.
It — it’s quite fascinating. Really, a person with an endless amount of — of insight and knowledge from a unique position, with no further ado, my conversation with the CIA’s Jack Devine.
VOICEOVER: This is Masters in Business with Barry Ritholtz on Bloomberg Radio.
RITHOLTZ: This week, I have an extra special guest, his name is Jack Devine, he is a 32-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency where he has served as Acting Director and Associate Director of Operations. He was the Chief of the Latin American Division and Head of Counter Narcotics Center where he was awarded the CIA’s meritorious Officer Award and Distinguished Intelligence Medal.
He has written a number of books on the intelligence fields. His most recent “Spymaster’s Prism: The Fight Against Russian Aggression.” He was Chief of the Afghan Task Force and in 1986-’87, helped drive the Stinger antiaircraft program, the handheld missile that took out Russian helicopters and really changed the course of the war, sending the Russians fleeing from Afghanistan. It couldn’t be more timely given our recent withdrawal, Jack Devine, welcome back to Bloomberg.
JACK DEVINE, FORMER AGENT, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: It’s great to be back, Barry.
RITHOLTZ: So, let’s start a little bit with your background and but I guess I really have to lead with Afghanistan. Tell us a little bit about your perspective as to what’s going on in that nation and where the United States went wrong other than the fact that we were there for two full decades.
DEVINE: Well, I think it all starts just like many things, how do you get into something in the first place often determines how you get — how you get out years later. So, I think we all were quite shaken and that’s an understatement by it, the attacks against the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon and ran the Al Qaeda (inaudible).
And in this country, our beloved country, everybody wanted to get the people responsible immediately and go get Bin Laden and we knew he was in — he was in Afghanistan. So naturally, there was a program, the U.S. governments immediately decided we’re going to get him. And within hours, the CIA had a team on the — on the ground, already had on the ground, but a team coming in to work with some of the mujahideen leaders that — in the Northern alliance which I had worked with years earlier and the Special Forces were coming in right behind them.
They would have been there at the same time, just — I understand that the paperwork got tied up, but the Special Forces wanted to be there. And they did a magnificent job.
And actually, 9/11 took place but, we — the government felt, the Taliban government felt, people forgot this, in November and in November 7th. So, that early covert action program.
Now bombing, the very first thing was bombing in October. And the reason I mention this is that we basically had brought down and our overt military arrived on night — the 19th October of October. The government felt, in a few days later, so did we really need an army is the question. And I wrote an op-ed piece that’s still floating around today in July of 2010, the CIA Solution which is, let’s not put a — we’re not — we’re not going to win with an army on the underground, we should be working to get Bin Laden and then where our interest apply, we’re covert, so I think the judgment call was that we needed to put our army on the ground.
Once we made that decision, then, their next — there’s no question that we could drag them off the field and we did. The question is how do you get out and the thought that we would be there 20 years later was probably not on anybody’s mind. So, fast forward, we get up to 100,000 troops during the Obama administration then started to bring you down and there’s a big argument today, not a — it’s not a big argument.
I think the vast majority of the people in the United States think it’s time to leave. But I think what we we’re looking at is not so much that we leaving the last few days, I think, the really criticism is — criticism is on how did we manage the exit and could have been avoided. And I think we’re going to have a tremendous number of congressional inquiries and so on about this and this will be a lingering issue.
So, I don’t think it’s about this was a time to get out. I mean, I have — I’ve been saying this for a long time, it’s how do you get out. And be careful, not to get into things where we put troops on the ground because that is a longer commitment and I’m an advocate for using covert and my whole career was devoted to covert action.
RITHOLTZ: I am a believer that even with troops on the ground, if we would’ve remained focused on Afghanistan and come up with a plan to do we have to do and then get out of that country, it could have been a much cheaper, shorter more effective war. How accurate is it to say that the adventure in Iraq, and I use those words purposefully, a war of choice that had nothing to do with 9/11 that distracted us from the task in hand in Afghanistan that is part of the factors that led to this snafu that we see currently going on today?
DEVINE: I think historians, when they go back, because you need to get away from it. Everyone’s committed. They had the roles, defending their role and that’s — but I think when history goes back, we’re going to have a hard time explaining exactly why we went into Iraq because they didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, right?
And there was not — even if they had, there was nothing indicating that it was going to be used against the United States and the proof in the pudding became — they didn’t have them so they certainly weren’t — wasn’t an imminent threat. So, I think there were a lot of us at that time that scratched our head about why go in Iraq. Iraq has nothing to do with Al Qaeda.
So and this is — I’m not a Johnny-come-lately on this. I was pumped at the time. And I go into that in both of my books that and I think it was one of the great errors in our — our foreign policy and use of our tremendous force, I mean. So, we spent a lot of time and money and most importantly, our precious military personnel.
So, I think it’s was a great distraction. We missed the main point which is go and get Bin Laden. It was — I wrote another op-ed where I was very critical of our government for not getting (inaudible). It took years to find — he was in Pakistan, so invading Afghanistan, but the guy was in Pakistan. Again, historians will look back and scratch their heads.
However, I was 100 percent for going after him and going into Afghanistan. But as I said, covertly. But the Iraq — war is — one thing that I’ve learned over the years in CIA, are consuming. Otherwise, once you decide you’re going to commit to a way, almost all your other activities and particularly in the national security arena are all driven by that war.
You stop looking at less about Russia and less about China though it’s — it becomes all-consuming. All of your personnel, they’re against that mission. So, it alters (ph) institutions, it is — the wars when they drag on, they have tremendous change and has tremendous change about your national security structure and there’s a long tail to it, paying for it, that goes to trillions of dollars that are going to be paid for by our grandkids.
So, I think, yes, it’s going to be really hard on decision to go in and to have stayed as long as we did and there is universal support. So, there’s knowing they could blame it on the Republicans, the Democrats. The president and I had a brief exchange, I mean, there weren’t a lot of people shouting about going into Iraq at the time and I just found that, really, (inaudible) that we went in.
RITHOLTZ: Post 9/11, I think you could have invaded anywhere and would have gotten support and that’s been some of the criticism of the Bush-Cheney administration. But let me circle back to the point you just made about wars being all-consuming and leading us to take our eye off of other balls that are in the air. Clearly, the focus has been on the Middle East for the past 20 years, and certainly, since 9/11.
But in “Spymaster’s Prism: The Fight Against Russian Aggression,” you make a very cogent case that Russia remains a dangerous adversary that they weren’t distracted by what was going on in the Middle East and that they, very capably, built up assets against the United States with which they have been deploying quite successfully without a whole lot of counter from us. Tell us about the motivations that led you to write this new book.
DEVINE: Well, Barry, there’s a couple of really key questions in your point and I mean, to tackle them, in the first one is it’s not that I’m using (inaudible) trying to figure out what happened in terms of our attention. I mean, very clearly in our public records, the budget against the Soviet Union, if you will, as opposed to Russia, dropped from 70 percent in the Cold War down to 10 percent. Now, they’re building it back.
And in the first book, “Good Hunting,” I mentioned sort of the end, not mentioned, I go into some lens that terrorism is going to be with us. And in fact, it’s been with us since the beginning of time. But it spiked and it spiked with 9/11 and ISIS and we had to do what we had to do.
But the real bigger arching, overarching longer issues will be returned of competition among nation states. And that’s where we are, the dialogue is about China, Korea, Russia, Iran. So that’s where the new national security emphasis. Can’t take your eye off of terrorism, but there was a clear trend.
But we were all in. I mean, when you put an army on the ground and you get up to 100,000 troops and 100,000 contractors and billions of dollars, so much effort goes into that, that it — there’s the government isn’t fungible in the sense that you’re going to have to take people off of something to cover it and you have to hire new people.
So, I think we became — we felt that the big — the big targets we’re not going to be the competitors that there are today. China clearly has loomed large and should not have been a surprise. But your point which is, I think, a really good one, is we sort of benign neglect, if I could use that old phrase, about Russia. It was somehow wasn’t the Soviet Union, so — and there was — it didn’t the economy of China, that has in China, Spain, or Italy, we should worry less about it.
But no one stood back and said, well, who’s actually working against us on our national security? Who’s actually operating against us, and particularly, United States? And this is what drove me to the book and that is when I saw the elections in 2016, I was, again, flabbergasted that — not that the Russians were in collecting information and cyber, I mean, that’s been going on and will continue to go on and go on for as far as I can see.
What they did was really different. A seismic change which I couldn’t believe they did which is they took the information and used it politically inside the United States and that is what happened Cold War as I go into the book. There is — we fought each other all around the world but we did not run big sophisticated covert action operations inside Russia after Stalin.
And they were rather a few blips on the screen but this is a general principle understanding, they were not operating on our states in our political system. So, 2016 isn’t so much that they were collecting the intelligence, they were in there. And that’s what drove me up the wall. I wanted to scream from the rooftops, pay attention. The Russians are deep into our cyber world, the new world of combat, and they’re very effective. They’ve been doing this and they have us — well, they’ve been penetrating us for longer than the Chinese and we can get to that.
But they’re using it and we need to respond that. So, that is the clearing (ph) call, if you will, from — on the “Spymaster’s Prism.”
RITHOLTZ: Let’s talk a little bit about the competition between the United States and Russia, the U.S. is an open society. We have a free press, a robust Constitution, a First Amendment that guarantees freedom of the press. Does this put us at a competitive disadvantage against those nations that would take advantage of our freedoms and openness?
DEVINE: It’s a double-edged sword and I will take the open, free Democratic side of the sword in the sense that it — during the Cold War, as you know, we talked about the spying business, having that as our mantra brought many of the best agents to us, the best supporters, the world to help us or our allies to help us was that flag flying high.
How would you like to have been a Russian KGB guy selling the economy at 1980, right? I mean …
RITHOLTZ: That’s a tough sell.
DEVINE: … we had a clear advantage. It’s a tough sell, right? We’re talking about the people in business, try and sell that. So, it’s a great advantage.
However, there is — the other side of the coin which is if you want to — we have a system that looks broken in some — some ways on this next point. We need to get a consensus. And authoritarian government can only be consensus, right? You can move more quickly. The Chinese can move quickly, the Russians, and the Iranians because they don’t have to have (inaudible) Congress and so. But I want to stick with Congress despite my misgivings about some parts of it.
But my point is when you get into the cyber world, the cyber type of world, our openness provides a level of vulnerabilities that in warfare gives them an edge and I should add just one point there, not to get pessimistic. I think we’re very powerful in our capabilities of the cyber war.
The big issue is because we’re a democracy, going your point, Barry. In order to use it against an adversary, we need to get a consensus. We need to get congress to approve it. You presently can’t do that unilaterally in terms of the action, covert action and they’d have to get approval.
So, today’s world, being the democracy, you have to go through that process and what you’re looking at in 2016 and before that and after that, they do not have the same (inaudible) constraints. So, they have an edge. But I still want to stick with our system because at some point, the system will come together. I know that seems Pollyannaish in this moment but will come together and we will get a consensus on what we need to do in the cyber warfare, but we don’t have it now and it is a — we’re in a disadvantage in our weakness now which goes to your — you’re, I think, very perceptive question.
RITHOLTZ: Tell us about Moscow rules. What are they and when did they start changing?
DEVINE: So, when I looked at the election as were just talking to — our 2016 election and hearing that the KGB was actually interfering our political process, I had — I was in denial at first. I thought they can’t do that, that’s — that’s this is — that’s, they’re politically stupid, but now I’ll come back and say maybe it was wasn’t so stupid after all in their part.
The second part was that’s not how we played in the Cold War. Did somebody brief — Putin was actually in the Cold War. It was a — and Dresden and we can talk about that at some point. So what were the rules? Whether you can’t find — it’s like the magna carta, you know, it’s a little hard to get your hands around the exact document but there was an understanding that there are certain things that weren’t going to happen early on in the Cold War.
We were not going to counterfeit each other’s money, why? We would destroy the world economy. So, we both had the capability to do it, that never happened. We wouldn’t rough up each other’s officers because we’re fighting all around the world and we would have no chaos in the intelligence world.
But there are a few exceptions on that. But by and large, that was an understanding. The others understanding was, you know, we can run operations around the world against each other, Afghanistan, Chile, each of — wherever the crisis, well, Italy after the war. But we — we were not going to meddle in at each site and each country’s programs. And I was in charge of it, as you know, for a period of time, number two, and then acting for number one, to number one.
And I would just tell you, the idea (inaudible) came up and said, look, let’s a run acute (ph) operation in Russia, look, that’s not how we play this game. And so, the Moscow rules, we need to get back to the table, and I’ll tell you, it’s not just the election. The election is just the manifestation of the problem and that is how are we going to conduct cyber warfare? We can have treaties on missiles and boundaries and treaties on the management of war and so on.
But how do you manage cyber when it’s invisible? So you have to have — and that comes hard to a Democratic system. In other words, we like things out in the open. We came very slowly the intelligence business through history. We build up intelligence and backed away.
So, and how are we going to deal with cyber. And the truth of the matter is, in my estimation, and I hope it was — I was hopeful that I was hearing something and the first discussions preclude (ph) that they were going to defer to the second level officials to sort of work out things I was hoping, and I don’t know that will be the case, would be the case but there’d be some understanding among the intelligence groups at a very high level. This is not a committee. This is really one or two people agreeing that we should — we know what you’re doing, you know what we’re doing, let’s understand each other.
You either, we’re going to stay out of each other’s political system. And if they don’t, then you get to the really hard stuff that this is where we need the consensus in this country. How do we respond to that aggressive Russian aggression inside of our — our political and economic system?
RITHOLTZ: So what is — there obviously was a willful calculus made by Vladimir Putin to violate these rules. Did he just see us as sort of distracted and vulnerable and thought, let me go mess with them? What — what’s behind such a radical change in the relationship between two very powerful nations?
DEVINE: I think it does — the personality of Putin and it goes through a strategic decision. On the personality, as I said, he was — he wanted to be a KGB officer at 17. They turned him down. But he actually got in to KGB. You have to be — it was hard to get in to the KGB just like it’s very har dot get in the CIA. I’m an exception, but, well, let’s set that aside.
But, so he would — he knew what he wanted to become. He wanted to defend the system, he was a true believer and they didn’t send the Paris, the wine and dine, the branch, or go to Washington and hang out in Georgetown, that — they sent them to Dresden and Dresden is the bleak, dark, east Germany that — and the famous Markus Wolf, the real Karla of le Carre’s books. I mean, he — he had more spies, Markus Wolf, than, I think, any they nation/state had at the time.
So, he was in the dark side of the cold war. And when the Soviet Union fell, he was crushed. His whole world. And I think he was committed and he remains — people need to understand that he is committed to the reconstitution of the great Russia. Not so much the Communist Party, but Russia being powerful and its intelligence arm is being powerful.
And guess what? And its enemy being the United States. And then I — I have a hard time, from the terms with it, but when I looked at the psychology, he grew up in a world where the number one enemy of the KGB was the U.S. and that’s still that he has in mind that we’re the powerful (ph) enemy and that truth of that, his adversaries like myself, I think we have a good relationship with Russia. There’s an awful lot of similarities with Russia and its role in Europe and we shouldn’t be adversaries.
So, it’s on that psychological level. And then we go into the whole psychology of Putin, if you like. But I think he actually believes that we’re an adversary in a way that I don’t believe is the case.
The second thing is they’ve developed a strategy, a military strategy, and it’s a tribute to one of the generals, (inaudible), if that’s pronounced right. And he was the head of the Armed Forces and he (inaudible) that’s not really a strategy, it’s called a hybrid strategy. It means when you’re facing adversaries, you used military, economic, political, but cyber.
In other words, they have made cyber part of their military strategy and the use of it and use of disinformation. In other words, when you saw the United States is owning the visible — that you eventually saw a visible part of a — of a military strategy and that is you weaken your adversary or if you like something softer, competitor, by getting into their system and to their cyberworld and causing trouble and making them a weaker political force.
And I think it was both politically, I mean, not politically, psychologically-driven, but I think it was part of their strategy. If there’s an opportunity to weaken us, they will. And we’ve heard them dabbling in Venezuela. They’re trying to do what they did in the Cold War, challenges everywhere.
The one to keep to your eye on today, unnecessarily next year, but today, is if you look at, if you look at today, what was Russia’s role with the Taliban? What are they going to be doing and what — what do they want back? And I absolutely promise you, their objective in — that the Taliban want was to make life miserable for the U.S. to use whatever capabilities it had and I think that story will — will unfold.
So, we need to recognize, yes, China is a big, tremendous military force, but the United — but Russia is fighting above its weight but it’s actually punching us. China’s in training, really good, rigorous training.
RITHOLTZ: One of the things you mentioned in the book is that Putin is essentially the newest czar in a long line of czars. How did you come to that conclusion? Is it a function of his net worth, which I’ve seen all sorts of crazy numbers about, or just his consolidation of power and really being the Russian autocrat?
DEVINE: I think he’s, first of all, the counter intelligence people in CIA is going to get excited about this, but I think he’s a very talented guy. Really smart, cunning, politically sense — he’s, this is a worthy adversary. So, what happened, if — he went into the KGB, the book that’s called “Spymaster’s Prism.” He’s a — he was a spymaster. He ran spies.
And there’s a way of looking at the world or the one of the — one of the characteristics you described was not that you’re not emotionally and you’re not a cold fish but when you’re thinking, you have to look at the realities of the situation and just whether you like them or not, you’ve got to deal with them.
So, I think he’s a realist (ph) and what his — his objective is to make — consolidate power, how do you become strong, powerful? And so, maybe he didn’t set out to be czar but he left and he got above the politics in Petersburg, became the — something more (inaudible) but he had a lot of interaction with the — in the political process.
But then he ended up being the head of — their version of the FBI, people forget. He was the head of the FSP, that’s their FBI. What does that do? That runs spies, intelligence, hard-edged information, tough guy. You don’t get there by accident, let me tell you, in Russia.
So, and then he was — the political process put him around the Yeltsin circle. And people had forgotten that the oligarchs, the old (inaudible) Putin and he’s a — he can be — he can be the success of the Yeltsin because we could all manage him, right? We can all manage him. But they missed it. They have (inaudible) is coming as they were — and quickly consolidated his position. He’s a real political animal, first order (ph).
And so, little by little, he consolidate his position, but he was a real operator and I think we have to understand that and not underestimate him but we need to understand how he views this and he’s not the warm embrace when I looked in his eyes (inaudible) I the truth. I mean, this is — this is the — this is …
RITHOLTZ: Talk about naïve.
DEVINE: This is a tough — a tough guy.
RITHOLTZ: There’s a line in the book that kind of crack me up, not just that he’s a spymaster president but, quote, “there’s no such thing as a former KGB agent.” Explain that.
DEVINE: Well, that’s him. That’s him. That’s what he said. I didn’t say that. I would say there’s no such thing as a former CIA guy but that does mean I’m on the payload.
DEVINE: It means that there’s a mindset and what Putin is saying to you is don’t be confused. I know how to run operations, I mean. So, and yada-yada, I was the head of all operations. So, where there is, I think, a major flaw on the guy that I gave — and I would — give to Alexander the Great or something, he might not have been a nice guy but he knew how (inaudible) what I would say about Putin along with his strategy is that it’s the basic principle which is we’re his enemies.
And (inaudible) political skills and becoming — and joining the west and becoming a real partner in the west, I think the Russian economy would be stronger, their more potential would be reached and the world will be a better place. But I think he’s decided. He’s got to play his hand and it’s better for him to be the tough guy in charge of a smaller Russia, a less dynamic and economic Russia, but be in charge and that when you open up the West and you open up to the Democratic processes that’s associated with it, you can count on consolidating and holding on to powers.
So, I think he’s decided to play the shorthand which would make him not Alexander the Great or Peter the Great, right? So, he is a czar, but on the — on the smaller scale I do think he’s a truly, a major adversary.
In fact, we’re confronting today, leadership is a really important thing. But Xi is not exactly a walk in the park either. I mean, another tough guy or the Irani, the North Korean. There was — the president of the United States past and present, we are now — terrorism was a highly decentralized problem. Right now, let’s — once the Afghan situation reaches a certain point of stability which it will, not — that’s not favorably for us, but stability, we will return and one of the president’s biggest challenges will be dealing with hard minded competitors who have nothing — have very little time for the Democratic process as we understand it.
RITHOLTZ: And some of the — last Putin question for now, some of the estimates of his net worth, what he snuck out of the country and has hidden elsewhere, puts him amongst the wealthiest five or so people in the world, 80 billion, 100 billion. Are these just sensational numbers with no basis in reality or has he really moved a lot of Russia’s wealth elsewhere as sort of his emergency life raft or maybe it’s his retirement planning?
DEVINE: Well, I think one of the big problems with all autocratic leaders is you really don’t get to enjoy a lot of your retirement money. But I would say this. I don’t know where he ranks in terms of the wealth of the top 100 people in the world but he is substantially wealthy. You don’t — I can think of an example in history where you’ve held the type of power that you held without a large aggrandizement of your fortune.
You’re certainly not working on what we would call a GS pension in the United States, right? I’s not the way the world works, to the best of my knowledge. And then there was this video, wherever they got this video from, (inaudible). So, I would say he has amassed a fortune, that’s unsurprising, and it’s not in history with the people that hold that much power.
And whether they can track it down to the penny, I’ll leave other experts to go there, but I would say he’s substantially wealthy and amongst one of the wealthiest man today.
RITHOLTZ: Quite interesting. Let’s talk a little bit about the state of the agency and, in particular, cyber warfare which seems to be everywhere from China to North Korea to Iran, and especially in Russia and let’s start with what is the Internet Research Agency? It sounds like a pretty benign title.
DEVINE: I couldn’t help but smile a little bit. The operational director of the CIA, its spying (ph) group used to be used to be called the director for plans or something. You’d see something like the Internet Research Agency, it had the same ring. It’s a — it is really the lead hacking group, it’s the centralization of their capabilities. It’s a troll farm. I mean, you have the ability to go in and create personas. They do a really good job of it.
It is their platform, one of their principal platforms of executing their cyber program. And again, the GRU and the SVR, that’s military intelligence, GRU and the old KGB is now called the SVR.
So, this is really a platform that’s used — that it was used during the 2016 election, all the face of fake identities in the operational activity that they were involved in emanated from — from those intelligence agencies and the IRA played a big part in them.
RITHOLTZ: So let’s talk a little bit about the involvement, generally, in social media but specifically in the election, what’s the purpose of disinformation, what advantage accrues to the Russians if the U.S. is busy sniping at each other over Twitter and Facebook?
DEVINE: Well, I think the big advantage is, I mean, it’s a political advantage which if you can make people angry with each other in t/he United States, there’s a whole list of organizations that they don’t really care whether it’s Proud Boys or the K — QAnon, Antifa, they don’t really care about the mission of them.
And in some ways, I’m going to tell you, I don’t think (inaudible) they cared about Trump. The bigger objective was how do you flareup and make Americans unhappy among themselves, unhappy about the issues to make any type of special interest group feel that they’re being disadvantaged.
S, it is really pscyh (ph) warfare. It used to be called psychological warfare and its used in every — I mean, going back, I was just thinking of the Battle of Jericho, you mentioned that, right? You go out there and you blow the horns and make it sound like that there’s a thousand — thousands of troops when there isn’t. I mean, so, people line, align themselves and organize around disinformation (inaudible) to the famous body that the (inaudible) put a note on it and floated the body so the Germans would find it and think we were coming in some place other than Normandy.
The Russians in the “Spymaster’s Prism” which I doubt was particularly interesting and we know about it because the guy that was involved in it, eventually, defect — defected to the west. He’s been a KGB guy. And so, in the ’60s, 1964, all of a sudden, there’s a member, a young person, college at the time, and the — they found a treasure trove of Nazi documents and (inaudible) found all of these incriminating documents about the German citizen that worked with the Nazis and it got into the “New York Times” and it was a big story. Huge story.
The only problem is there was — it was a KGB operation, Operation Neptune, right? And what they did is they falsified the documents and as I’ve said, that himself was part of the team that organizes so it looked like there was a private sector discovery.
So, the purpose was to make Germans hate each other. So, disinformation has always been a tool, psychological warfare, of the military but also in the intelligence world. And substituting Stalin’s head and putting someone. I mean, it just — it goes on and on.
The difference today is when I was in the agency, you only had limited capabilities. As I’ve said, you found the body during World War II and you put a note on it, right? Today, we live in a new world. Social media is like — it’s almost like a nuclear weapon and its ability to generate tremendous force.
So the ability to use disinformation and it’s well understood, so Russians have been in the disinformation and never stopped and it’s something that they do quite well, actually. And in the modern days, I’m told that the personas they make look very legitimate. They really put time into it.
So, it’s a new way of warfare. So, there is a warfare — there’s a warfare being taken — taken place and I would submit on the — in Afghanistan today that Russia’s using social media to create tensions and problems that are at an adverse to our — our interest so disinformation is part of the big gains, so to speak.
RITHOLTZ: So around the time of 2016 election, we heard the name Cozy Bear. Who or what is Cozy Bear?
DEVINE: Cozy bear, fancy bear, lady bear, these are all operational names that have given to GRU and SVR entities. Cozy bear was actually discovered by Dutch intelligence and it was the Russians, actually, going in to our system and the Dutch alerted this to us. They were the first ones to Cozy Bear being designed to stir up trouble in the United States during the 2016 election.
Again, almost like the operation I mentioned (inaudible), it’s called Operation Neptune. So Cozy Bear is really an operational name for an activity. And when you — when you engaged in sort of meddling inside our country, they got the nickname Cozy Bear, right? So it’s not, it’s the name of an activity rather than a specific group.
RITHOLTZ: And then what took place in 2018? Why was it the GRU probing the U.S. election system?
DEVINE: I think it both are and I can’t tell you whether they coordinated or not, it’s probably a bit like our own intelligence world that a lot of things are coordinated but some things aren’t. But the GRU — and this is true in our own system, big data and the ability to have mass big data often requires a tremendous computer power.
So, in our world, NSA has tremendous capabilities in the cyber world and now, we have a military command called cyber command and the reason is because it requires a tremendous amount of firepower, if you will, in the cyber world and personnel. And as a consequence, the military is better equipped to handle what I would call large — large cyber activities. So, that’s why we have a cyber command today.
The CIA, and, again, this would be my personal judgment on the KGB SVR, probably do more surgical things. In other words, they’re not trying to amass all the data and grind it down in supercomputers but are looking at surgical things, targeted types of activities. But both are underplaying under the same flag, which is it is to one operation that we can be political fabric of the United States.
RITHOLTZ: So, let’s talk about some of those operations that are attempts to weaken the social fabric here. I won’t — there’s a run of things you’ve referenced I want to ask you about. You mentioned QAnon. Are the Russians stirring up trouble with that group?
DEVINE: I think there’s a number of things that are emerging to book that I — it’s really what are the types of groups that they would be looking at, Antifa, right?
DEVINE: QAnon. They started in the vaccination program putting out this information about the vaccination and that vaccination or vaccinations that are not good, they’re not effective, right? And then what were the Chinese doing about, where did the — where did the virus start.
And so, Proud Boys voice white supremacist, right, climate, I mean, they’re taking issues and it’s not — as I said, you don’t want to overrate that they’re working with the conservatives or the left or whatever. They are just taking advantages where they see friction inside of our system and try to agitate.
So, I think the FBI, I would think, would be immensely busy in trying to figure this out as well as the NSA and how deep are they. Now, at the end of the day, I don’t think — I think it’s a nuisance at this point. I think the — what we really need to be concerned is the real potential. If they decided to up the ante, I mean, how far could they push it.
And second of all, we need to nip it in the bud. It’s not exactly the bud, I think it’s looming if you will.
DEVINE: But I think we need to have some understanding this cannot be go unchecked where we have — you pick whatever group — notice any group that has a voice and particularly conspiratorial mindset and that is much larger than I anticipated. Even though I came from the world of conspiracies, right, maybe it’s because I know too much that the conspiracies are hard to bring about that one would think.
But there is mindset in the United States that I’m only now thinking of what are — where are the roots of this mindset and it’s a conspiratorial one. We become less sanguine about our government and our institutions and we’re more susceptible used to be and I’m trying to figure what is changing and then it’s kind of right before us, right? It’s the cyber world, it’s social media.
Whereas today, it is so much easier to stir up trouble among people and I think we have to realize that it’s not – a lot of this isn’t just internal. Much of it is probably taking advantages by all of our competitors to have them make us weak and we have to be susceptible — I mean, we have to be perceptive about this and we have to be able to address it with those doing it and that’s why I think we need to have really tough discussions.
The Russians are the ones that are really going about. The Chinese looked at 2020, we know this from public intelligence reports that have been made public by the intelligence community, but decided not to in 2020. In other words, they did want — and Trump was being to top on whatever but they decided that we can live with that but we’re not going to do what the Russians did. But they looked at it.
But the Russians, they’re going to go why — why step back if you’re not being forced to step back and they need — remember, I started with the theories of power players. So, they power played with some vulnerabilities pushed at it and they don’t back up unless it’s power. You’re not going to jawbone the Putins of this world or the Xis of this world to see if it works.
DEVINE: If you accepted their powerplay, they recognize power, we have to make sure we don’t dilute our power or one of things about democracy touch though, which is really interesting and we don’t think about it enough, America is really restrained for. I know it doesn’t feel like that today but we don’t really use our force.
The rest of the world looks at it as being much more — much stronger and have a different view of this and our power, we tend not to use — use our power. It’s much as if our country were an authoritarian or in any case, we didn’t have to go before the public. So, we’re not using our power by choice at this point to counter cyber warfare and the question is when will we reach that consensus and will of the united people that we’re not going to tolerate intrusions into our political process.
RITHOLTZ: So, let me reference some of the things you write about in the book that was kind of fascinating. I didn’t have any idea that the Russians were out buying Facebook accounts and Twitter accounts and other local accounts in order to use that as part of their agitprop. That was — that was really kind of shocking. Who are the useful idiots that are selling these things to the Russians? Because I have to imagine someone wants to buy your Facebook account. No good could ever come out of that.
DEVINE: They create their own personas. I mean, they actually create people that you think that actually exist. In other words, they create identities.
RITHOLTZ: Fake — fake identities and run them on Facebook and Twitter.
DEVINE: Right. Remember, they did that years ago. We had a spy — a famous spy. There was a movie with Tom Hanks few years ago and it was Rudolf Abel, , right? He came here under false documents and they have – they showed the Americans, right, this is old Russian stuff.
But if we move to today, it’s not one person. You’re building identities. You’re — you’re — you’re building social media identities that look real. And so, they had (inaudible) in front of me right now but I think 2,000 — led by 29,000 Facebook spots that you can hit. They had Twitter accounts. I mean, they were out there. I think when I did the research on it, I think we — I think on the low end concluded that they had like 20 million hits — 29 million hits.
So, it wasn’t trivial. It wasn’t like one guy came in with a false document, right? This was — we were out there. They were peddling among 29 million people. But I think if you look at the numbers and the aggregate (ph), it looks really big. But I think at the end of the day, the election was really — the American people were voting on bigger issues in their mind and the Russians were …
DEVINE: … working around the edges. But the potential is there and even if they only changed 2,000 votes or made 2,000 people mad, that’s 2,000 too many.
RITHOLTZ: Right. Well, let’s look at — let’s look at Brexit which was pretty much a dead split down the middle with a slight advantage to the Brexitors. Were the Russians agitating for the UK against the EU and did they have an impact there?
DEVINE: Yes. Honestly, Barry, I don’t know the answer. But the Brits are in some way — I mean, they’re our closest ally I would say. We have the Canadians that are close to us and Australians are the (inaudible). I think one of the problems for Putin and that issue would be is is it better for Russia to have the UK in or out of NATO.
So, would the conclusion be they’d be better out. I’m not sure they’d make that call because it might mean closer alliance with the U.S. So, I don’t know whether they – I don’t have any primary source research on that. But if it felt to them like it was advantageous, then I would suspect that they — and as you were saying, you could work within the margins but you have to make a decision and a lot of times even autocrats are stuck (ph) with tell me how this plays out again, I mean, because it all worked through our favor but for human beings. And so, they can make a snap decision.
So, I don’t think Russia changed and had the impact of — on Brexit. So, I mean, I think it’s like the American (inaudible) I think it is what it is and I think Brexit ended up with a lot of other overarching issues beyond what the Russians might be able to stir up.
RITHOLTZ: Right. You mentioned in the book after the 2016 election there were these not my president rallies. Tell us who is behind those and who is agitating for those.
DEVINE: So, again, you have a lot of posts that in the world social media, almost spontaneously. You don’t know who starts the first tweet on it, right, or whatever. But I think once the Russians saw it, I think our reporting would indicate that they saw that as an opportunity.
So, that is — that is one area where they were developing Facebook points and agitating. But whether they’re driving force, I won’t give them that credit yet.
DEVINE: Right. But they saw that and it was in their interest to have a segment of the population feel that the President of the United States is illegitimate. Anytime you are an adversary and you can play that card, that weakens your adversary. So, they surely were into — well, they’ve raised behind it. I think that was going to come — it did come with or without those.
RITHOLTZ: Regardless. Yes.
DEVINE: But were they playing it? Sure. And as I said, around the edges, it’s — I’m not saying to make a difference but they were playing in it. I’m concerned that they’re playing it to cause a broad spectrum of things and the potential if not checked then they will create not my president, right? How much money are they going to throw in?
So, in other words, it can become really quite disruptive. Now, we can do the same thing inside Russia. I mean, we need to understand that. But I don’t think he believe we want to do it, right? I don’t think he feels that we’re responding and I think the last thing our president said was we’re going to respond in time. What does that mean? That includes you’re saying, well, OK, what does that — what’s that going to look like? And I think that’s why you have to have a private discussion between intelligence people saying let me tell you what it looks like.
RITHOLTZ: Get ready.
DEVINE: Yes. We have to — otherwise, we’re going to have — this is like a nuclear weapon, mutual destruction, right? So, you don’t do it, right? You contain yourself and we don’t have that right now.
Right now, the Russians feel, we’re messing your system, you’re not doing much in my system, I don’t see any incentive to stop. I’m doing a lot of R&D right now. I’m testing — I mean, I don’t need to be so flipped about it. But I’m testing this and seeing how we can do this and how we can work within the U.S. system, right?
But if, let’s say, we really got to the mat and we were at each other’s throat, I mean, we’re looking at small potatoes compared to what they could do and what we could do.
RITHOLTZ: What do you think the reaction in Moscow was to the January 6th insurrection that took place earlier this year? Were they surprised by that? Were they agitating by that or they’re just very happy to sit back and say, hey, if you guys going to fight amongst yourselves, we could just — never get in the way of an enemy shooting themselves in the foot?
DEVINE: I think it’s the latter which had happened so fast. It’s like the type of thing you can’t prepare. But the other thing is it’s one thing to create a persona out there about not my president, right? It’s another one to deliberately be involved in a violent act against the capital, right?
That’s a bit too risky I think for even Putin who is not risk avert. I think you don’t want to be called out with that one that absolutely requires American response that’s pretty dynamic. So, I don’t think they had the chance to evaluate it, weigh it and it just happened too fast. But if you’re asking me how they about the route (ph), that’s what we didn’t have to work out but that really worked out within our plan.
It’s now – now, they’re going to have investigations, they’re going to turn on each other. But we’re looking at our own weaknesses and they’re sitting there looking at them and they’re thinking about how do you leverage it. Remember, he studied — he was — he’s a judo expert. I think he’s a black belter.
DEVINE: He understands how you use the other person’s strength against them, right? And so, I think these are judo plays.
RITHOLTZ: That’s really interesting. So, one of the things you wrote the book that I found kind of intriguing was as long as there’s an autocratic government in Moscow, there will be people willing to spy for the West. That raises two questions, why does an autocratic government lead to that and second, why do Americans and Westerners occasionally spy for Russia.
You would think in the battle of good versus evil, it’s — maybe it’s not crystal clear but it seems like they’ve been the bad guy for a long time. Tell us a little bit about why people spy for us and why do people spy for them.
DEVINE: There’s a commonality on one level and don’t let me leave here without going there. But let me go to the first set of issues on this and as I said at the very beginning, working from a Democratic system, we had much more of a drawl to get people to want to work with just, not just Russians, everywhere, right?
And it was — it was not a hard sell because a lot of people were dissatisfied with their own country because it was a repressive one like repressive — heavy repressive. But when you have an autocratic government, you have people that are much more disadvantaged and have — do not have a release for their dissent.
The United States, there’s lots of room for dissent. You can say whatever you want, whenever you want and you can go, move on, get another job and so on. So, we have that release and there are, percentagewise, fewer people that are (inaudible).
When Russia first started, when the communist started, right, there was appeal. People believed that communism, right? We have a number of people both in UK and the United States became spies. Maybe a lot of people spies not for money but for the fun (ph).
By the time you got to Stalin, I mean — and then World War II broke out and Hitler and Stalin agreed on how to handle Poland, I mean, that — everybody was disillusioned. So, it’s really hard ideologically after the ’50s to get people to really want to become a communist.
So, they had a rubber (ph) product. But then there’s the world — so, in the bittersweet of things, I think democracies have a bigger opportunity and fewer folks that are spy candidates, but they are spy candidates and I will get to that.
In the Russian side, I think a lot of people are disgruntled and they came and volunteered their service. So, many of the KGB sources are GRU sources and people like that came to us rather than us finding them.
But then what makes people spy just to another level. So, you have the overarching ideological, economic, political but then you have why is a person betraying and what’s really interesting when you study the most famous spies, what I found is it’s not about ideology, it’s — and you take the famous American spy inside the CIA, Rick Ames or Robert Hanssen inside the FBI and you look at their personalities and you find they share the same thing, they think they’re really smart, smarter than everybody else. Sadly, for them, they’re not smarter than anybody else.
But they were also lazy. So, when you have — if you think you’re really smart, you’re lazy and you work inside the U.S. government, you end up getting promoted less frequently, right? And then when you get promoted less frequently, it’s the system that’s against you, right? You’re not recognized for the genius that you are. You’re not appreciated, right?
And you become alienated within your small world. So, people often defect inside of that world that they’re disgruntled about the squeeze on their ego and their recognition. And when we look at Ames, when we look Hanssen and look at spies, they often have that in trait.
So, I would look for someone that’s a gambler, drinker, yes, look for them. But look for the person that has a huge ego and is delusional about themselves and are underperforming, that’s where we’d go hunting for spies and they’re in every society.
RITHOLTZ: Quite interesting. I wish we had time to get to China but we’ll have to save that for the next time. I have to ask you before you get to our favorite questions one last question. Another quote from the book which is, quote, “Fundamentally, the ultimate lesson to take away is this, never trust the Russians.” Explain that.
DEVINE: I was going to name, at least the subtitle, Never Trust the Russians. So, I had a plaque in my office, I now have it down in my house, for sure, and it’s a quote from the last democratic president in Afghanistan, 1907, Abdur Khan, and he talks to his son and this is the quote that it says, “My son, my son, my last advice to you is never trust the Russian.”
Now, that plaque was given to me by Charlie Wilson, Charlie Wilson IV which is (inaudible) Charlie’s War and go in the book, it was actually U.S. government program but the U.S. government program doesn’t make for movies like I got to look like Tom Hanks and things like that or Charlie Wilson didn’t look like him.
But my point is it had a sentimental value because it was — if you look at — from the eyes of the Afghans, I would say to them today, watch the Russians on your border today. But I don’t mean it in the pure sense that never ever, ever trust them. But in this day and age, I would say, you need to pay more attention to what they’re up to. I honestly believe that somewhere out there, there may be an opportunity to do business with them in a more — I think the natural course of events would be to bring us together.
But I think for today, the mantra is really meant to say, hey, look, pay attention, the Russians are not benign. And so, you really can’t trust it standing in front of the — in Helsinki and saying I’m the next KGB guy (ph) and therefore, I can tell you that, no, we’re not spying you. It’s an oxymoron.
So, my point is this is a moment to remember who Russia is. So, it’s not communism, they’re not communists. So, they’d be more threatening if they had an ideology. There is no ideology.
RITHOLTZ: So, let’s jump to our speed round, our favorite five questions we ask all our guests starting with tell us what you’re streaming these days, give us your favorite Netflix or Amazon Prime viewing material.
DEVINE: It’s interesting, let me start with what I don’t watch, which I think will surprise your audience. I don’t watch any James Bond movies, right? I don’t watch most spy movies. I used to resent them because I thought this isn’t the way it. it trivializes the business. And then I began to realize, geez, if everyone thinks I’m James Bond, they think I’m a (inaudible). If you know what I look like, you compare with Sean Connery, you would know why I’m more famous as supposed to where (inaudible).
But I — it would be interesting, I will look — did look at a couple of le Carre’s. The first ones are good, “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. But basically, I really go to another place. I look at a masterpiece theatre and I’ll watch “The Crown” or things by Jane Austen, well, that’s kind of light stuff. But it’s such a relief if you get back to a world where people had manners and personal dignities and so on.
So, I find those tranquilizing in a most positive sense. So, I’m a big fan of PPS and I lived in Britain for a substantial amount of time and enjoyed that and so on. So, that’s where you’ll find me on Prime and Netflix most often.
On the podcast, I did an an awful lot of podcasts during the promotion of the book and I enjoyed doing them by the way. But I’m not a follower of a particular podcast. I spend a lot of time going through what I would call the more traditional media outlets.
And then probably, if I had more time, I should focus in on podcast. I enjoyed several of them but I tend not to be a podcast follower except by own.
RITHOLTZ: Tell us about some of your early mentors who helped shape your career in the world of intelligence.
DEVINE: One of the great things about writing a book, and we could spend a lot of time on the advantage of writing a book and things that I did not think I would get out of it, one that — one of those is a young person, say what, I made it by myself, right, that’s all I got there.
And then you go back, you write a book, you’d said, wait a minute, you start looking at your career and in every step of the way, and this is a tribute to all of them, that I had a series of process, one after the other, but actually put up with me and mentored me and stopped me from stepping on my foot, if you will.
And from my first chief in Chile, I’d be careful with the names because some are not and some are, but in every step of the way, the agency seemed to reach out and pulled me towards something positive and I think in retrospect, I ran the things like Chile and Afghanistan. So, I was predisposed to sort of the action arm of it.
So, I owe — I usually — and the book has very clearly described each of them and sort of putting a helping — helping hand is the right word. I wouldn’t have gotten clearly survived my first assignment without bosses that were interested being helpful.
They call tradecraft, the business pf spying, and it’s the word craft that’s really interesting. It’s like a journey event (ph), right? And the best of the best managers in CIA that I worked for looked at it as trade. Jack, we’re going to show — you went through training, you jumped out of planes, but we’re going to show you how it really works.
And I’m very grateful and I admired the generation of people that I worked for. But we’re true — there was one thing they all had in common, they were very diverse people. They were all true patriots and had high integrity. I know that’s hard adjectives for people to swallow in CIA but you’d be amazed of the dichotomy between the integrity inside the institution and how it exercised power with the approval of the Department of Justice outside.
RITHOLTZ: Quite interesting. Tell us about some of your favorite books and what you’re reading recently.
DEVINE: Well, I think the one I’ve been enjoying and I was going through it slowly and I actually think it’s very apropos, I got so much out of it, it’s Ulysses S. Grant by Ron Chernow. Now, why it is important? You look at the Civil War and everybody — Robert E. Lee, the great general, the feather in his hat and all of this and you look at grumpy cigar ashes on his coat, drank too much, (inaudible).
But when I dug into the book, there was something I didn’t really — he was a cornerman (ph). He knew how to make things move. When you look at the Civil War, so much of warfighting and this comes to — I want to come to Afghanistan logistics. I mean, the real heroes of that Charlie Wilson or Jack Devine or Milt Bearden (ph).
But it’s the logistics guys and people who make the mules to get where they want to go and the guns really are helping them to negotiate and that was logistics in Afghanistan in many ways. And when you go to war, yes, you need to make (inaudible) here and there perhaps. But you really need the logistics guys and Ulysses S. Grant was the logistics guy.
And when you look at his formation, it tells you about how you do things. So, when I have time, I spend a lot of time reading newspapers and magazines because I’m required to stay up (inaudible), I tend to go to biographies and history and I found a lot — (inaudible), the one on tap that I read last year which who thinks about (inaudible) when you read it. An amazing career (inaudible) but proconsul in the Philippines and on the Supreme Court.
I got halfway through one on Paulk and I started on McCullough’s “Pioneers” and who thought of Ohio being a pioneer state and what it took Americans in the world they live and I really think it was one of the formative aspects of our life.
And then the one that I’ve enjoyed is a fun book because I don’t read a lot of fun books and maybe I should someday. This is a great book. It’s going to make a movie out of it and it’s just taking forever and it’s “Boys in the Boat.” It’s really about the crew team that raced in 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany and what it took to get there. They’re lumberjacks out of Wisconsin going to that race and pinching out a victory.
And also, you can find it online. Look it up — when you look up 1936 Olympics rowing, I mean, it’s America at its best. So, enjoyed it. It was a good read. And then I do tend to stick to biographies.
RITHOLTZ: Interesting. What sort of advice would you give to a recent college grad who was interested in a career in either government service or intelligence?
DEVINE: (Inaudible) and this is you really want to be a — you really have to want to serve your country and you say, well, that’s a cliché, of course, you do. Now, you really have to. I mean, this is — you will not get through the door. It’s the glue that holds it together.
The second thing I would say is make sure your education is broad based and then someone is going to say, look, China is the place, learn Chinese. Maybe. Maybe it won’t be. Maybe things will happen here by the time you get ready.
Be broad base in understanding the history of not in this country but the world. I would invest in that and not worry too much about the specialization and study and read the best books written on it and certainly please, include mine. That’s the first — actually I’ll say that’s number one,
But it’s shaving a worldview and as I said, really wanting to serve your country is critical. You want to make a dollar, that may not be the best place.
RITHOLTZ: Interesting. And our final question, what do you know about the world of intelligence, counterintelligence, spy craft today that you wish you knew 40 years or so ago when you were first getting started?
DEVINE: That’s a profound question. I would say that, again, from my perspective, Graham Greene wrote a book. “The Human Factor” and the essence of the human factor is the best laid plans of mice and men, right? Whatever you plan, whatever you’re doing, , you got to double your planning, triple your planning because something is going to happen that you’re not ready for. And as we look at modern events (ph) in Central Asia, having the plumbing and planning, the importance of planning.
The other thing that I would say and I should have said this almost first and I found the paucity of it. I thought at every level I will not — I would get to the level where there’s strategic thinking, right, and you keep looking for it. And that I found that most of the intelligence world, most of the world is around tactical thinking. What are we going to do today, what are we doing tomorrow?
And it’s very hard to build into life the strategic things and of all places to retreat and head of the plumber’s union, I was 16, came to me and he said, remember three things, firm handshake, never have your picture taken with a drink in your hand, and spend the first five minutes before you get out of bed thinking about the bigger aspect of your life.
And that’s a good — I mean, from a blue-collar guy, that’s a high-level thinking and I would say for young people, make sure you would put time in the strategic thinking and not just how to get from A to B.
RITHOLTZ: Quite interesting. Jack Devine, thank you for being so generous with your time. We have been speaking with long-term CIA veteran Jack Devine, author most recently of the “Spymaster’s Prism: The Fight Against Russian Aggression.”
If you enjoy this conversation, well, be sure and check out any of our prior 367 conversations we’ve had before. You can find those at iTunes, Spotify, wherever you find your favorite podcast.
We love your comments, feedback and suggestions. Write to us at email@example.com. You can sign up for my daily reads at ritholtz.com. Follow me on Twitter, @Ritholtz.
I would be remiss if I forgot to mention our crack staff that helps put this conversation together each week. Tim Harrow (ph) is my audio engineer, Atika Valbrun is my project manager, Michael Batnick is my director of research, Paris Wald is my producer, I’m Barry Ritholtz, you’ve been listening to Masters in Business on Bloomberg Radio.