Cipher Brief Expert Norman T. Roule served for 34-years in the Central Intelligence Agency, managing numerous programs relating to Iran and the Middle East.   He served as the National Intelligence Manager for Iran (NIM-I) at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence from November 2008 until September 2017.  As ...

Bruce Hoffman is a professor at Georgetown University and Visiting Senior Fellow for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security at the Council on Foreign Relations.  He has served as a commissioner on the Independent Commission to Review the FBI’s Post-9/11 Response to Terrorism and Radicalization, a Scholar-in-Residence for Counterterrorism at the CIA, and ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Earlier in the week, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi, Russia, where the two leaders negotiated the contours of a post-American Syria. While Moscow is one of the clear winners of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria, there ...

MOVIE REVIEW: The Spy Behind Homeplate (a documentary) by James Periard James Periard served over 25 years in the Central Intelligence Agency as a Case Officer for Middle East and counter terrorism operations, including as a Chief of Station and Chief of Base in several expeditionary locations.  He now serves ...

  Bottom Line Up Front In Chile, one of Latin America’s wealthiest nations, anger and resentment over corruption and economic inequality reached a boiling point over the weekend. Protests in Chile continue, with the government declaring a state of emergency and deploying the military into the streets to quell growing ...

China and South Korea quietly agreed this week to engage in a joint effort to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.  The announcement came on the sidelines of the Xiangshan Forum, a conference focused on Asia-Pacific security.  The two countries have resumed bilateral defense talks that were suspended in 2014, signaling a ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Facebook recently announced that it identified and disabled Russian and Iranian disinformation campaigns operating on its platform. The proliferation of bots, fake accounts, and malign disinformation campaigns by state and non-state actors alike is expected to increase significantly in the run up to the 2020 ...

  Bottom Line Up Front As the United States continues its hasty withdrawal from Syria, Russia has consolidated immense leverage in the country. Acting as Assad’s air force, Russia has helped to reverse the regime’s territorial losses, committing war crimes by targeting civilians and hospitals. Given the recent U.S. withdrawal ...

This first stage of the House impeachment inquiry, being held behind closed doors under the chairmanship of Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), is setting a firm, fact-finding, foundation for what is to follow. These depositions, as described in a “Dear Colleague” letter sent Wednesday to all members of the House, portray ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Late last week, Lebanon erupted in protests in response to the government’s attempt to impose a tax on the popular messaging app WhatsApp. The protests have focused on a range of topics, including corruption, austerity measures, failing infrastructure, and pervasive economic mismanagement. The protests have ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Al-Qaeda maintains a stronger position in the Sahel than Islamic State-affiliated groups. Although Western targets have been struck in recent years, the vast majority of jihadist attacks and resources have been focused on local-level operations in the Sahel. Besides jihadist groups, there are various vigilante, ...

Marc Polymeropoulos retired in June 2019 from the Senior Intelligence Service ranks at the CIA after a 26 year career in operational headquarters and field assignments covering the Middle East, Europe, Russia and counter terrorism.  OPINION -- Several friends have recently asked me how the myriad of international scandals that ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Beijing is hyper-sensitive to public criticism and does not hesitate to use its economic power for leverage in silencing companies, universities, and governments. In early October, the general manager of the NBA’s Houston Rockets tweeted support for protesters in Hong Kong, leading to an immediate ...

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has long relied on a range of technological tools to provide geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) like commercial imaging, remote sensing and human geography to help warfighters, first responders, policymakers and spies navigate the world. Due to its unique mission and vantage point, NGA serves both as an ...

  Bottom Line Up Front The increasing proficiency of Iran’s missile and drone technology is key to Iran’s regional influence and deterrent capability. The September 14 Iranian strike on critical Saudi energy infrastructure demonstrated that Iran’s military technology has been underestimated by U.S. and other Western officials. Iran’s transfers of ...

Gary Grappo is a former U.S. ambassador who served as Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad; U.S. Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman; and Charge d’Affaires and Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As a career member ...

OPINION – Why is there no Whistleblower in the case of President Trump’s October 6, phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan?  Who was on the line with Trump? Anonymous Pentagon sources last Tuesday said Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Milley were on the line, ...

  Bottom Line Up Front While much of the discussion around disinformation focuses on the role of nation-states, violent non-state actors have also developed fairly sophisticated disinformation capabilities. Disinformation can take many forms, including the use of manipulated images and videos, digital engineering attacks, ‘truthing,’ and ‘social proofing.’ In 2017, ...

OPINION -- President Donald Trump’s decision to remove the small contingent of United States troops remaining in Syria is a disaster on multiple levels. It illustrates not only his reckless instincts on foreign policy but also the near-total absence of a process for making momentous decisions in his administration. For process, Trump’s style ...

  Bottom Line Up Front An anti-Semitic attack in Germany resulted in two dead as a white supremacy extremist symbolically chose Yom Kippur as a day to target Jewish worshipers as they attended religious services. In Germany and throughout Europe, individuals and groups have sought to normalize extremist ideologies, seeking ...

  Bottom Line Up Front On October 9, Turkey launched a cross-border offensive into northern Syria using airstrikes, artillery bombardments, and a ground invasion against Kurdish positions. The United States and Turkey have never agreed on Washington’s strategy of fighting the Islamic State by arming the Kurds. The abrupt decision ...

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is defending President Trump’s decision to withdraw support for Kurdish troops in Northeast Syria, saying Turkey has a “legitimate security concern’.  Meanwhile, other countries, along with both Republican and Democrat members of Congress in the U.S., are condemning the move calling it a betrayal ...

As the impeachment investigation continues, The Cipher Brief spoke with former CIA Director and retired Four-Star General David Petraeus about why Ukraine is such an important strategic partner for the U.S. The Cipher Brief:  You and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst called in recent months for U.S. support ...

  Bottom Line Up Front On September 20, the Trump administration sought to completely shut Iran out of the international financial system by imposing new sanctions on its Central Bank. The Central Bank sanctions are complicating Iran’s efforts to import food and medicine, producing effects comparable to a blockade of ...

  Bottom Line Up Front On Sunday evening, the Trump administration released a statement from the White House press secretary that signals a major shift in U.S. policy toward Syria. The decision to pull back and allow a Turkish military incursion means that Washington has betrayed its truest allies in ...

BOOK REVIEW: The Killing in the Consulate: Investigating the Life and Death of Jamal Khashoggi By Jonathan Rugman Reviewed by Nick Fishwick Nick Fishwick CMG retired in 2012 after nearly thirty years in the British Foreign Service. He did postings in Lagos, Istanbul and Kabul. His responsibilities in London included director ...

The Cipher Brief is bringing you a range of expert perspectives on Syria this week.  General Jack Keane (Ret.), the chairman of the Institute for the Study of War, spelled out The Limits of U.S. Influence in Syria on Monday with a solid assessment of U.S., Iranian and Russian influence in ...

OPINION -- White House officials initially learned of the first Whistleblower’s complaint about President Trump’s July 25, telephone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky weeks before it became public.  What did those officials do about it and was President Trump involved? Answering that question should be part of the impeachment investigation ...

  Bottom Line Up Front In late September, protests erupted throughout Egypt in response to the widespread and systemic corruption of the regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The go-to strategy for repressive regimes throughout the region—quelling demonstrations through force while offering vague promises to assuage a litany of legitimate grievances—could ...

OPINION -- As we digest the Trump administration’s unorthodox style of governing in the foreign affairs arena, it is worth focusing on a key aspect of our bilateral relationships that does not get much press, the effect of President Trump on our foreign intelligence service liaison partners.  How they approach ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Iraq has been convulsed by growing protests this week over corruption, widespread unemployment, and the government’s inability to provide basic services. The government shut down access to the Internet, a tactic favored by repressive governments across the region, as recently witnessed during unrest in Algeria ...

  Bottom Line Up Front The Assad regime again demanded the immediate withdrawal of U.S. and Turkish troops from Syria, labeling them ‘occupying forces.’ Meanwhile, the United States and Turkey are finalizing a so-called safe zone along Turkey’s eastern border with Syria, which will introduce ancillary issues. The U.S. continues ...

  Bottom Line Up Front It has been one year since the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, killed by a team of assassins with ties to the highest levels of the Saudi government. Despite his denials, the C.I.A. has assessed with medium to high confidence that Saudi ...

OPINION -- Could there be a Hugh Scott in 2019? I refer to Sen. Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, in office from 1958 to 1976, who came to mind because as a young Pennsylvanian during the Watergate crisis, he left an impression on me. An old-fashioned centrist Republican, Scott was one ...

The U.S. has issued new economic sanctions against seven individuals linked to a Russian internet troll factory.  The sanctions were announced Monday with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling them a warning to foreigners seeking to interfere in U.S. elections. The U.S. Government is bolstering its efforts to defend voting ...

  Bottom Line Up Front It is probable that Islamic State core transferred its technological know-how to its West African province (ISWAP) through direct exchanges between fighters in Libya or Nigeria, or through encrypted online communications. Although ISWAP has used drones for intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance, the group has so ...

BOOK REVIEW: The Compatriots: The Brutal and Chaotic History of Russia’s Exiles, Emigres, and Agents Abroad By Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan Reviewed by Joseph W. Augustyn Joseph W. Augustyn is a 28 year-year veteran of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, and once served as the Director of the Defector Resettlement ...

OPINION -- Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson deserves praise along with the Whistleblower for pushing within the law to get President Trump’s highly protected phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky before the Congress and the public. Atkinson’s two week “preliminary review” helped build credibility for the Whistleblower’s August ...

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman is warning that military conflict with Iran would collapse the global economy.  He made the statement during an interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes and said that he prefers a political solution over a military option. "The region represents about 30 percent of the ...

  Bottom Line Up Front As outlined in a new report by The Soufan Center on the nature of transnational white supremacy extremism, the U.S. military has struggled to root out violent white supremacy extremists from its ranks. The F.B.I. recently arrested an American soldier based at Fort Riley in ...

OPINION – It’s still unclear just how President Trump may further respond to the recent coordinated drone attack on a Saudi oil facility that has been blamed on Iran by the U.S., France, the U.K., Germany and Saudi Arabia. Within days of the attack, the President announced that he was ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Britain’s Parliament descended into angry shouting on September 25 as the country remains in turmoil over Brexit. Even for normally boisterous British politics, recent sessions have revealed a deep-seated dysfunction. The U.K.’s highest court had earlier declared the prorogation of Parliament to be unlawful. There ...

  Bottom Line Up Front White supremacy extremism (WSE) is a transnational challenge, with tentacles stretching from Canada to Australia, and the United States to Ukraine; it has evolved at a different pace in different parts of the world. The rapid expanse of social media facilitates radicalization and recruitment within ...

The development of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies provides great potential to businesses that are able to harness the opportunities it presents, but AI also poses great risks to national security.  Within the pages of the 2019 Worldwide Threat Report, presented in January of this year by former Director of National ...

Cipher Brief Expert Ambassador Joseph DeTrani offers his seasoned perspective on negotiating with North Korea.  This piece was first published by our friends at 38 North, a project of the Henry L. Stimson Center. COMMENTARY - The thirteen years (2003-2016) I invested in negotiations with North Korea in different capacities—Special ...

  Bottom Line Up Front At the 2019 United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), which kicked off this week, topics including Iran’s attack on Saudi Arabia and global climate change are dominating the headlines. A recent report concluded that without a significant effort to reduce carbon emissions, the next two decades ...

BOOK REVIEW: Guardian: Life in the Crosshairs of the CIA’s War on Terror By Thomas Pecora Reviewed by Mike Howard Mike Howard is the former Chief Security Officer for Microsoft, where he worked for 16 years.  He is also a former CIA Security and Operations Officer, a role which he held ...

  Bottom Line Up Front On September 20, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security unveiled a revised counterterrorism strategy which focuses as much on domestic hate groups as it does foreign jihadist terrorist groups. In the United States, more attacks have been committed by those motivated by racism, anti-Semitism, and ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Exceedingly rare and courageous protests erupted throughout Egyptian cities this past weekend, with demonstrations against corruption. Corruption allegations claim that Sisi has misappropriated public funds for private use, building presidential palaces, high-end properties, and even a tomb for his deceased mother, while ordinary Egyptians struggle ...

The Cipher Brief is running a special series on disinformation – in all of its forms – ahead of the 2020 U.S. Election.  This week, The Cipher Brief spoke with former CIA analyst and Intelligence Briefer Cindy Otis, about how foreign intelligence services use conspiracy theories to sow distrust and ...