Spies, Lies, and Algorithms

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US intelligence expert Amy B. Zegart chats with Trey Elling about SPIES, LIES, AND ALGORITHMS: THE HISTORY AND FUTURE OF AMERICAN INTELLIGENCE. Topics include:

  • The US intel perspective on Russia’s war on Ukraine (1:37)
  • The use of cyber warfare in this conflict (3:29)
  • An element of cyber warfare that US intel was slow to understand (4:42)
  • DC and Silicon Valley improving their relationships for the good of cyber warfare (5:43)
  • George Washington actually proving to be an adept liar, especially on the battlefield (7:33)
  • Improvements to intel gathering by the American Civil War (9:02)
  • How the attack on Pearl Harbor shaped intelligence (10:28)
  • The CIA’s original intent upon its founding in 1947 and how quickly it became something else (11:34)
  • How George Church and his 1970s Church Commission further shaped US intel agencies (12:41)
  • What it looks like when an Congressional oversight committee does well with the intelligence agencies (14:28)
  • Why the long-running disfunction between agencies got worse between the end of the Cold War and 9/11 (16:22)
  • How ‘unknown unknowns’ shape decision-making (17:33)
  • Whether intelligence is inherently secretive (19:17)
  • The most common characteristic among intelligence officers (20:42)
  • Finding Bin Laden as an example of forgetting everything you known to learn the truth (22:56)
  • Asymmetrical information as a tool in making accurate predictions (24:35)
  • The point where the amount of information goes from helpful to overwhelming when making predictions (26:12)
  • Groupthink (one of Amy’s ‘seven deadly biases’) negatively affecting the US intel community’s read on Iraq and WMDs earlier this century (27:30)
  • How to frame a problem in a manner that helps to avoid those biases (28:44)
  • The secret of ‘superforecasters’ (30:06)
  • Whether artificial intelligence is better at analyzing data than humans (31:18)
  • The definition of ‘counterintelligence’ (32:46)
  • The benefits of counterintelligence done well (33:04)
  • Why intelligence agencies still use polygraphs when the technology has been proven as unreliable (33:47)
  • How technology caused a counterintelligence crisis for the US in China a decade ago (36:43)
  • Why ‘covert action’ is such a hotly debated topic within the intel community (38:02)
  • How it’s both good and bad that intelligence and war fighting are much more connected (41:34)
  • What the public gets wrong about US intel agencies and officers dues to the liberties Hollywood takes with their depictions in movies and tv shows (43:22)
  • ZERO DARK THIRTY as an example of Hollywood taking major liberties with ‘truth’ (46:04)
  • How it’s decided which information gets classified and who makes those decisions (47:25)
  • Why chapter nine, titled “Intelligence Isn’t Just For Governments Anymore”, focused on nuclear threats (48:40)
  • What Amy thinks will happen with our response to Russia in the coming days, weeks, and months (51:06)
  • Whether China will take this opportunity to gain more of a stranglehold on Taiwan (52:31)