“NATO’s Assistant Secretary General for Intelligence & Security” – with David Cattler
Dr Andrew Hammond: Hi, and welcome to SpyCast. I'm your host, Dr Andrew Hammond, the storing curator here at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC. SpyCast's sole purpose is to educate our listeners about the past, present and future of intelligence and espionage. Every week, through engaging conversations, we explore some aspect of a vast ecosystem that looms beneath the surface of everyday life. We talk to spies, operators, mole hunters, defectors, analysts and authors, to explode the stories and secrets, tradecraft and technology of the secret world. We are SpyCast. Now sit back, relax and enjoy the show.
Dr Andrew Hammond: Every polisci student knows from their Plato to NATO class, NATO is (a) the most successful alliance of its kind in history and (b) that it was founded in 1949. As you can imagine, intelligence is incredibly important to the whole endeavor. To find out more about NATO and intelligence, I sat down with David Cattler. Now David's had all manner of interesting jobs at the NSC, ODNI, DIA and the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. At the moment [LAUGHS] though, his job involves coordinating with the Secretary General, 30 states and 75 intelligence agencies. Talk about herding cats [LAUGHS]. With Russian forces building up on the Ukrainian border, the timing of this episode could not be more germane.
Dr Andrew Hammond: Along the way we discuss what it's like to be the leader of intelligence and security across a 30 nation alliance, how intelligence comes together at NATO, some of the challenges facing the alliance, including Russia and cyber, and life in Brussels and David's journey from a 17 year old Long Island boy to NATO.
Dr Andrew Hammond: I know that you, I know that you live in Brussels David, but I know that you're not, not there for the strong beer or the mussels [LAUGHS] as your main, as your main reason for being there. Tell us a little bit more about what it is you do, and tell us a bit more about NATO and intelligence.
David Cattler: Sure. Intelligence is critical to the alliance. It's really important to alliance decision making, it's important to the alliance to understand what's happening in all the regions of concern and all, all the key issues. And it's really important because the alliance makes decisions, we say at 30. And there are 30 members of NATO right now, and they have to achieve consensus. And so intelligence is a key component of that decision making process as they assess the environment and situation. As the Assistant Secretary General, I'm the first American in this post, and as we likely to discuss, the post itself is fairly new. This is only the fifth year that this post has been within the NATO structure. As that Assistant Secretary General, I'm the strategic leader for intelligence and security across the alliance. I'm the principal advisor to the Secretary General and the Chairman of the Military Committee on those issues, and I also represent the nation's intelligence and security services in the NATO headquarters environment. So in that capacity, I'm their advocate, and their proponent. I'm an advisor on their behalf within the NATO leadership structure.
David Cattler: I also have a lot of responsibility to manage the Joint Intelligence and Security Division, so a fairly large division within NATO that consists of permanent staff and also many men and women from the intelligence services themselves that serve there. I lead their efforts, I care for their people, and help them, protect them, the facility and, and all of that information. And I have responsibilities to set priorities for the alliance, for, for intelligence and also to define an intelligence and security vision, and then develop and execute a strategy. I think in simple terms, really, I have four key tasks. The first is to provide that good security. We have to have adequate protection for NATO people, information and facilities, because if you don't have good security, you don't have trust and if we don't have trust, we're not going to be able to engage in the discussions we need to engage in, we're not going to have the right information and so on. The second task is to be sure that, that they all have the same intelligence driven facts at 30, at the same time, drawing on the best that all of the nations can provide to NATO, synthesized within my division, and in some cases , by the, by the nations themselves. And that draws from both military and civilian intelligence and security services in that business.
David Cattler: The third key task is to raise that level of knowledge, consistently and persistently over time. So if they say "We need to know more about China," as they have in recent years, you have to make sure that they all have the same common baseline that's relevant to their tasks and their decisions at hand. And then we have to fill that in and really make sure that that's enriched. Then finally, it's to lead the NATO intelligence and security enterprise now and into the future. When we say the enterprise, what we mean is my, my division, in the headquarters environment, shape with a military component, that's in, in Mons in Belgium, and then also allied command transformation that's based here in the US in Norfolk. So I'd just say to close out my answer to your question, I think people should remember that there are 30 member states in NATO. I think most people will know that if they've looked at NATO. But I bet you what they don't know is that there are more than 75 intelligence and security services within those 30 nations in the alliance.
David Cattler: So we've got not just an incredibly strong, in fact arguably the strongest military alliance in world history, but also one that brings a lot of intelligence, diversity and capability to the tasks at hand. NATO has nothing that the nations choose not to provide. So it's critically important that the nations have that trust and participate in this framework. And I think the last thing you should know about my job is that the Secretary General is my boss, but imagine him in this context, to put it in a different frame, is that he is the CEO of a large international conglomerate that engages in multiple business lines, and I am the CEO of the business line for intelligence and security. The nation's intelligence services in effect are my corporate board. So they provide that governance and the oversight for all the work that I do.
Dr Andrew Hammond: OK. I think that one's a good-- that's a good trivia question. 75 intelligence [LAUGHS] agencies at NATO. And I, I think, like, for some of our listeners, you know, they, you know,this post has been there for five years, and some of them will be, oh, I remember in political science from Plato to NATO, NATO was founded in 1949 [LAUGHS]. What, what took it so long to set up a role like yours for intelligence when, as you so articulately said, it's so central to NATO's enterprise during the Cold War? When are the Soviet armored divisions going to pour through to fill the gap? When are the intercontinental ballistic missiles going to start coming for Washington DC? Help us understand that time lag in terms of your role.
David Cattler: Sure. So as you said, 1949 the alliance is formed, now the Washington Treaty is signed here in Washington DC and the alliance comes into being. At that time, the Deputy Secretary General was tasked with leading the intelligence effort. Now as you'd imagine, the Deputy Secretary General's got a lot on his or her plate, so they did attach a lot of importance to it because the DSG was tasked with running it. But you can imagine that he or she, very busy, they've lots of roles, not just in the headquarters environment, really on behalf of the alliance as a whole. And what happened over time was that there was a recognition that as a result, the intelligence and security efforts lacked comprehensive focus in a lot of oversight. There was duplication in efforts and duplication in tasking, duplication in resources required and the nations contributions. And I say duplication really, the civil military divide, so the military committee had its own intelligence support organizations. The North Atlantic Councils, the civilian body that provides the political guidance and direction on behalf of the nations, had their own intelligence components.
David Cattler: And so the challenge then became you could have, and did have differences of view. The military committee is supposed to provide military advice to the North Atlantic Council, so if they receive a different intelligence picture than the North Atlantic Council does directly, that needs to be reconciled and difficult for the DSG to handle. So conversation really began in 2010 at the Lisbon Summit about the need for this to be resolved, and it took six years, so the time to get to the 2016 Warsaw Summit, to really have resolution. And during the Warsaw Leaders Summit, the leaders decided to create my post, so to create an Assistant Secretary General for intelligence and security, to create my division, the Joint Intelligence and Security Division, and then also to create this concept of that NATO intelligence enterprise I mentioned to you in my previous answer. So I'd ask you to just keep in mind that it's, it's joint intelligence and security, as in the title, it's also joint military and civilian. We draw from military and civilian intelligence, and I wouldn't say regardless of the source, because the source does matter based on the topic at hand, you know, if you have more of a political question, it's probably more appropriate for civilian service. If you have a military question, it's probably more appropriate for a military intelligence service.
David Cattler: But we do look across the board and my division provides that consolidated support to both the North Atlantic Council and the military committee. Sue Gordon was the PDDNI when I worked in the DNI, and I learned a lot from Sue, and I've, I've echoed and adapted her language about what that means then in practice. So my job to help synchronize that effort is first to bring the best of intelligence to bear at or before the moment of decision. It doesn't matter which nation, it doesn't matter which service, doesn't matter whether it's military or civilian, we just step to the best intelligence that the 30 nations can provide so that the best decisions can be made. The second task then is to ensure that, that everyone has the right authorities, permissions and resources necessary to be successful. Do they have all the tools? Can they actually do the job? Then to create the space for the team to do what it does best, they're all professionals. They know what they're doing. This is really some of the best people drawn from those 75 plus intelligence services from those 30 nations, dealing with a lot of really, really good information for them to inform the alliance's decision makers.
David Cattler: And then the final thing is we have to protect it all. So security, security, security in everything that we do.
Dr Andrew Hammond: And that leads onto one of my next questions was, how does all of this like come together for you on a, on a daily basis? Are you constantly on the phone to the Secretary General or the Supreme Commander for Allied Forces Europe, or to the American President or the British Prime Minister, or all of the above? Like help us understand [LAUGHS] how you make sense of that, all of those moving parts, because there's quite a lot that you're dealing with. 75 intelligence agencies, 30 nations, one headquarters, the biggest military alliance in history. There's, there's kind of a lot going on there right?
David Cattler: So my role mostly plays out in headquarters, and I say mostly because it's a lot of travel. I mean like this trip back to Washington in this capacity, I'm not really back in Washington as an American, I'm back in Washington as a senior NATO official. To talk in Washington to the nation's intelligence and security services, but also the State Department, to the Pentagon, to the White House, Congress, about how it's going. What's it like, what does it mean to have an American in this role? What's the value in that? Given the significant investment that the US makes in allied intelligence, is that worthwhile? Like, where's it working, and not working? You know, what else should be done and that sort of thing? I like to get in early as I did here, so I typically will arrive, not US early, but pretty early in the morning, so seven in the morning I'm usually at my desk. I catch up on developments from overnight, I'm looking at our own sources, I'm looking at open sources. And I'm getting ready to start the day.
David Cattler: We have a number of meetings with the Secretary General and Deputy Secretary General and, again, the CMC, the Chair of the Military Committee, during the course of the week, where I'm giving an intelligence update. We're publishing intelligence products over the course of the week that go out to all 30 of those delegations. Current intelligence for situational awareness and also longer term intelligence to address their more strategic needs. My key partner on the military side at Shape is the J2. So the J2 performs a very similar role to what I perform for Allied Command Headquarters, in Mons. And a large part of my job then, the NAC might convene two or three times a week, so you have a political discussion, you have a political debate. My deputy for intelligence briefs the military committee every morning, in their senior synchronization meetings, and I might brief the military committee every other week, every third week, usually en route to a meeting of the North Atlantic Council. So the same topic. So let's say they're going to discuss Russia, I'll brief the military committee first, maybe with a little bit more military oriented detail, and then I'll give a more politically oriented briefing to the diplomats and the North Atlantic Council later in that same week.
David Cattler: So it's all part of making sure that the military committee has the right intelligence picture to give military advice to the NAC. I also do a lot of informal work, so I am communicating with the heads of those intelligence and security services as frequently as I can in writing, in email. Send them informal notes. Many of them have representatives that work in the headquarters environment that I'll see on a regular basis in formal committee meetings or informal meetings. And then I will travel as well. So in recent weeks I've been to Riga in Latvia, I've been to Athens in Greece. I'm now here. I'll go and, at least what I can remember in the remainder of the year, I'll go to Slovenia, Montenegro, I'll go to North Macedonia, I'll likely go to Italy, I'll go to, I'll go to the UK. And these are important visits for me to hear from them about what their priorities are, where their initiatives are taking them and for me to give them feedback, how their people are doing and how their contributions are being put to good use as well.
Dr Andrew Hammond: Just briefly, can we just zoom out to 30,000 feet? One of the things I love about our podcast is that it ranges from the personal and the desk working, the issue, through to the average person on the street that really loves a good spy story. So just briefly, so we're not leaving anyone behind, break it down for us so intelligence, NATO, NATO's headquarterdom. You know, we don't need to say what NATO is, but just give us an understanding of how you, your role and, and, and the people that you are responsible for are situated in relation to the bigger picture of NATO. Just for the kind of Cliff Notes version.
David Cattler: Yes, so NATO headquarters is in Brussels, Belgium, and there are thousands of people that work for the alliance in that headquarters environment. So this is really the hub of NATO. There are two military commands that are based in Mons, Belgium and in Norfolk, Virginia. So we have ACO, Allied Command Operations and that's SACEur, the Strategic Allied Commander Europe is, is the leader of ACO. Then we have SACT, Strategic Allied Command Transformation. So that's really about helping the alliance think and shape itself for the future, especially on the military side based here in the United States. The nations will have permanent representation, is the technical term for that, in the headquarters environment. So each of them will have an ambassador, they'll have a deputy ambassador and they'll have a military representative, so they can participate in both the North Atlantic Council and in the military committee. Many of them will have large support staffs then for that role, you know, dependent on their level and the chosen level of investment.
David Cattler: And the reason why it's permanent representation is because the, the North Atlantic Council is always in session. So they're like a congressional permanent committee, so they can convene at, at any time to take up issues of, of importance to the alliance.
Dr Andrew Hammond: That was a great crystallization [LAUGHS] of it, thank you. And help us understand what, what are some of the most significant events that have taken place since your role? I mean, I can think of a number of significant ones, but I would prefer it if you chose a few.
David Cattler: Yeah, so this was a, it's a really interesting question. Because also I thought about if I were not a professional in this business, what would I think you know, about [LAUGHS] about the experience? And I tell you, it's been a strange time, because I arrived in this role in November of 2019 and I officially took the post up in December of 2019. So I had the opportunity to come over first as a US person, so think like on vacation in between my American job and my NATO job beginning to get settled in and move, and get up to speed with my life in Brussels. But also to attend some committee meetings before I started the job, and that was helpful to me, to meet some people that really understand how this, how this place works because committee structure has a formality and it's got a set of rituals to it that, frankly, is unlike anything else. As I just say, keep in mind that you're in a room that's largely silent because there's simultaneous translation into a few languages. Everyone has an earpiece in. You're only speaking when you "have the floor," when you press the button for the microphone, when you're called on.
David Cattler: So you're listening to the entire committee meeting through an earpiece, so it's incredibly quiet in this, it's a completely different cultural experience than an, I would say, a normal meeting here. So I started work on the first Monday in December 2019, and that evening I left on a plane for the London leaders meeting, so think it was like the summit for NATO on my, my very first day. The second day was at Buckingham Palace and met the Queen.
Dr Andrew Hammond: Wow [LAUGHS].
David Cattler: And it was awesome. And saw all these heads of state, and I was promised every month would be like that, and it has not been. No I, So it's just a little bit disappointing. But some key events, Covid 19 has been a big thing. It's really affected a lot of, of the job, and not just because we were stressed to think about different ways to work in that environment, we had to be very careful to try to control the spread, you know, the virus, to keep people safe. We also had critical mission, especially in my, in my areas. So really important that we try to find a way to work through that. It also impacted a lot of travel, you know, intelligence and security are really people driven businesses. You have to have a really good personal relationship. People have to know you, so you can have that trust, you can do the sharing, you can call on each other when you're needed and it's really helpful, not to just be able to put a face to the voice, but frankly to have shaken hands and had a meal and sat down and really talked about who we are and, and why we share the same values and what it is we're all committed to.
David Cattler: During Covid, we saw a lot of mis and disinformation campaigns, saw a lot of cyber. We also saw, saw a lot of allied support for each other and, and the NATO partners as well with vaccine provision, with assistance for logistics, helping with medical supply provision, helping, frankly, combat those mis and disinformation campaigns through an alliance framework, so to give them some strength and some backstopping as well as they chose. In August of 2020, we had the stolen Belarussin election by Lukashenko, the protests began so now over a year since that. A pretty significant event in terms of European security. Spring 2021 we had that, that very important to take note of, an odd Russian military deployment around Ukraine. We've had the beginning of the withdrawal from Afghanistan in the spring of this year, the Madrid Summit, for, for the NATO in June. We had the Russian exercise Zapad, begin, their strategic exercise this year in August. The collapse in Kabul and the evacuation of Kabul in the middle, the 14th and 15th of August. And next year we'll have the Madrid Summit, a new strategic concept and by fall we'll have a new Secretary General.
David Cattler: And I haven't mentioned things like the Ryanair flight force downing, Russian espionage and sabotage in the Czech Republic and in Bulgaria over the course of this year and, and many other things that we've also had to focus on. So it's been almost two years for me, it'll be two years in November, and it's been quite the experience already in terms of just the pace of real world events and the limitations that Covid imposed on, on really trying to get started properly from the very beginning.
Dr Andrew Hammond: And you're going to be there for another two years, is that correct?
David Cattler: Another two years, so I accepted an offer to extend for an optional fourth year, so I will be in this post until November or early December of 2023.
Dr Andrew Hammond: And what are some of the challenges that you see coming in the next couple of years? What are some of the, the main things that A, are either, you know, going to push themselves onto your agenda? Or B, things that you more want to deal with pro-actively?
David Cattler: So I'd give a few things. I think strategically and then within our business. Strategically we have, we have a summit coming. You know, as I said next year in Madrid, and the selection of a new Secretary General. And the Madrid Summit is very important because NATO will agree to, jointly, a new strategic concept, and these strategic concepts endure for about a ten year period. And it's a, it's a document that then becomes a touchstone document that the nations leaders, so the Presidents, the Prime Ministers, will agree to on behalf of their nation, and in doing so they're saying, "This is what NATO stands for, we reaffirm our values, we say that this is what's important to us across this period. These are the, the substantive topics that we'll address. These are the threats we recognize, these are the challenges we see in our environment. This is what we think that, that landscape will evolve into over this ten years and these are our strategic goals." So it's quite an important effort.
David Cattler: I also say it's a challenge because this, this Summit will occur in the June, in the June/July summer timeframe. There will be a tremendous amount of work that has to happen. Policy, politics, military planning, in order to get to that substantive clarity in the agreement by then. We also have ongoing threats from Russia, we have terrorism, we have the remainder of the pandemic, NATO's leaders recognize China as a rising power and a systemic challenge to the international rules based order in the Summit communique from Brussels in June of this year. NATO has declared cyber space as operational domains that the alliance needs to understand, take advantage of. Hybrid warfare, same way. Climate change is another factor that we're looking at in a security context. So we have all that on the substance, and at the same time, for me, again I'm the second ASG in this role. NATO has only been, as you said at the beginning, in this construct now, for five years. And so we need to keep giving it life. We need to make that enterprise real and we need to deliver.
David Cattler: So building common purpose and culture, having a shared vision and strategy, building the team, doing, succeeding, celebrating, learning and adjusting through all that, critically important. But really demonstrating the value and the return on investment. I mean, I think we tend to be really hard nosed in the intelligence business and I, I don't think we're transactional. I think we're fair with each other, but we're really clear, it's an important business and it takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of trust, we need to make decisions about what we're going to do together, and what we're going to share. If I don't see the value, if I don't understand it, it makes, makes it far more difficult in order to get the things from each other that we really need. And so it's critically important then that we reach full performance during my mandate, so as I look to this next two years, I've got all these, these practical policy challenges, I've got all these substantive issues, and the collectively allies have tasked us with really understanding and helping them cope with and build good policies and strategies to deal with in a lot of new areas that the alliance has chosen to tackle, and my organization is still fairly new.
David Cattler: And so a long legacy, you know, but we really do need to focus on the way in which we work with each other.
Dr Andrew Hammond: I want to come back to Russia, specifically, but just, if you indulge me for a second it struck me, like, speaking to you, talking about the nature of this business, or talking about the nature of the enterprise, and you mentioned relationship building, people and so forth, and it struck me, I'm not trying to butter you up because you're sitting across from me, but besides being articulate and, and knowledgeable, you come across as someone that has a lot of people skills, emotional intelligence. And I think there'll be people out there that are listening that maybe want to work in this space, and, and I think that this is something that's often not discussed in the realm of intelligence. Some of these types of skills. So I wondered if you could just go slightly off piste just for a second and tell me about your experience of using those skills, of how important they are, of how important it is or, to develop them for people that are listening, that might want to have a career in this space?
David Cattler: Yeah. I think, I actually think about that a lot. You know, because this is a, this is an interesting challenge in this role. I have authority, but it's tightly circumscribed. I have a job description, that has, in NATO language, has a mandate with it that gives me certain roles and responsibilities, but I feel like the lessons I learned over the course of my career, and especially my service with the DNI, here, the Director of National Intelligence. Because dependent on how you, how you look at my resume, I've worked for the DNI there two or three times in a variety of roles, as an analyst, and then also as an enterprise manager. And many of the DNIs I worked for would point out that while they have authority, they prefer to use it sparingly. You want to have a team approach and a team spirit. You want to encourage the agencies and the officers within the agencies to work together. So you have to inspire a common action. You have to appeal to reason and to the shared sense of purpose.
David Cattler: And the agencies, I mean especially here in the US, but really everywhere in the alliance, at the end of the day the agencies are going to choose to do the right thing. I'm not the boss of the nations intelligence services. I'm their representative in the house, yes. But as I said I'm also accountable to them. So you have to know them, you have to respect them. You have to understand what they can do. You have to be very attentive to their needs, you have to be very careful with their people and their information, so very respectful of the entire situation. You're not going to direct them to do anything, so you have to build deep and meaningful professional and personal relationships that really matter, and you have to be very mindful that in an intelligence role, we are not political with a capital P, but we are political with a lower case p. We have to be politically savvy, we have to know what the politicians are saying and what they wish to do. We have to know what they've said are their limits, we have to know the same with military officials and military leaders. This is where they're likely to go, this is where they wish to be. That's how you anticipate where their requirements are. That's how you get ahead, that's how you deliver before the decision comes.
David Cattler: It's OK to deliver when the decision needs to be made, if that's the best you can do, but it's better to anticipate, it's better to provide the warning. But I, I then, my answer to this question, and, and just say again, it's, this business is very much a people business. You have to have integrity, you have to have credibility, you have to be direct when it's appropriate to be direct, you have to be diplomatic when it's appropriate to be diplomatic. It takes focused effort to, to be approachable, be engaging, to be solicitous, almost to be an ambassador in that role. To also be able to then shift gears to the military side so I'm, I'm so fortunate that I have a joint military and civilian background myself. I served in the US Navy, I, I did not begin my career in intelligence, I transitioned to intelligence, in uniform first and then as a civilian. So I can speak military. I understand what they're about and what they're motivated by and what they need. I understand that role of intelligence, and I also understand the political side.
David Cattler: But I think it really starts with you, and I'm very fortunate that over the course of my career, especially when I became a senior officer, I had mentors and bosses, I had good friends and colleagues who shared a view, that it was very important that we not just master our business and our craft, but that we also really understand how we need to behave. That we know what our, the hallmarks of our craft are, so again being apolitical, being impartial, being clear eyed. I think we're maligned as being cynics, often. I think we're just brutal realists in this business. But I see that, yeah, we tend to be genetically predisposed to pessimism, maybe a little bit more than everybody else is. And it's very important for us to understand that, that if you're going to, if you're going to lead through consensus, if you're going to build that consensus, that you have to have a different respect dynamic and you have to, you have to really focus on these organizational personal relationships in order to be successful. The sooner you start the better, frankly, because you can build a reputation that gets you off on the, on the wrong foot that makes it difficult for you to do the business you need to do.
David Cattler: Or, frankly, you've got a lot of fences to mend and you go back and really make clear to people that you've learned some things, you know, I've not been perfect in every job I've had, certainly [LAUGHS]. I feel like I've learned a lot, I mean you grow, you mature. I went to the Naval Academy in Annapolis when I was 17, so I've really worked for the government, the US government really now, aside from this time at NATO, since I was 17 years old. So that's now 33 years of this sort of work, and I think one of the biggest lessons I've learned is that you've got to put yourself into it, you need to have that emotional intelligence, you got to have some passion for it, and if you're going to do it for this amount of time, you better enjoy it [LAUGHS]. And there's lots to enjoy in this business. It, it is a really rewarding field to go into.
Dr Andrew Hammond: What's the most enjoyable part for you?
David Cattler: Yes, so I think, let me put it to in, in personal terms and say that, we here, especially in the US system, have so many tremendous opportunities to know things that no-one else knows, that's really cool. If you like that, [LAUGHS] if you like knowing things that most people don't know, if you like solving problems, if you like trying to know what the other person is trying to keep secret from you and coming up with strategies to find that out, if you like solving puzzles and riddles and enigmas, this is a great business for you. And I've lots of jobs where that's been, that's been a key feature of the job. But also say, on a, on a personal level, here especially if you like, sometimes we as professionals in the space, lose sight of how special the work really is. I have seen things that the US can do and the allies can do, that just makes me so proud of our capabilities. The things that we can accomplish, the technologies we have, the quality of the people, the depth of knowledge. I mean it is amazing.
David Cattler: And we have a great capability, plenty of other nations have deep capabilities as well, in a, in a broad range of areas, and so that's just been a huge personal reward to really get to see. I've seen things and seen sides of this business that, frankly, many people won't get to see and that's a, that's a great personal and professional reward. I've briefed three Presidents, that's a huge thing. I've worked at the White House, been in the Oval Office a few times. And I tell you, when I first talked to my family about it, my, my first reaction was sort of, "Oh it's no big deal, it was just a task I had. I had to, I had to lead this presentation." And when I started to talk to family and friends, you realize, well, no, that's actually a very unique experience. Most people are not going to go through their lives and go into the Oval Office at all, and if they're going in the Oval Office, it's not to brief the President on something that the President has either asked for or otherwise needs to be warned of, and informed of, so that they can get ready to lead the country and defend the country and make good decisions as the leader of the United States, or as a partner, with any of a range of other nations, and that's a really big deal.
Dr Andrew Hammond: I'm still waiting for my invite. [LAUGHS]
David Cattler: It's a cool thing. But I'd also say it's only been in recent years that my family has really been able, I think, to, to better understand what I do, because I think as you get more senior you, you do have more public facing roles. So here at NATO, you know, I'm at Brussels with my wife, and I think she now sees, because of the interactions we have with diplomats and with military leaders in the alliance and in some of the capitals, I think she has a better idea of what I do, and when I started work I was the, the Deputy Director of Intelligence in the Joint Staff. I was Admiral Rogers' deputy between 2010 and 2012 and, you know, went on to be, he went on to be the Director of NSA, he's just a brilliant, brilliant guy and, and a great boss to work for. My family had a meeting with the DI director and with the J2 when I took that post up, and they took the time to explain to my kids, who at that time were, this was 2010 so my kids were 14 and ten. And it was, it was really important for them to hear from these two senior military people, you know, "Your father's going to be working really hard and he's not going to be at home as much. And the job has got this and this function in it, but it's really important. And it matters that he's not going to be at home. I know it's a big deal, but this really matters and it's only going to be for a few years. But this has to happen."
David Cattler: And I tell you on a personal level that that really meant a lot, you know, to have that conveyed, because I, I don't feel like people really know what we do, and very often our families don't really know what we do either. So to have that, I think, yes it's more personal, but I think that, that also it's something I look back on as a really important moment in my career.
Dr Andrew Hammond: I, I, I promise we're going to get back to Russia [LAUGHS] but I just want to ask one follow up question with, it seems to me as well that you're someone that, that can come and, and understand power structures and stakeholders, both people technically underneath you in the hierarchy, people at the same level as you, people above you, and that kind of situational awareness is also something that's not discussed a lot. Or I don't hear it discussed as much as I would like to hear it. But that's, that's really important isn't it? Being able to come into an organization, to get a feel for it, not to be obtuse towards the various stakeholders and the history and processes and the culture. But you seem, to me, we've only met for an hour or so, but you seem quite an astute judge of that type of situation. Can you, can you enlighten us a little bit more and is, are those chops that you were born with, or did you develop them? Yeah, tell us how you got there.
David Cattler: I think it's probably a bit of both. I started as an analyst, which I think is the best way to start, frankly. Biased, because I was an analyst, but I think, from there, the career path I chose was really more about the provision of intelligence and the advice that intelligence provides. So that strategic synthesis from us, to very senior policy makers, military officials, to say "These are the most important things for you to know. These are the questions that you asked, these are the questions you should have asked. This is where we think things will go. This is where we think things will be." And to really hear from them, and frankly it sometimes in very open ways about, "These are, these are my concerns. This is what I need. These are the things I need to be able to make a good decision. This is what I'm thinking about doing." And to be able to answer, you know, again, on behalf of the, the whole community, right? To be able to provide this service.
David Cattler: "What might happen if? So I have options, if I take that option, what do you think the consequences of that will be from a threat perspective? What opportunities do you think that creates? What risk does that entail?" And that is a craft within our, within our business. I think people that have been the President's briefer have the skill, people that have been the DNI and the PDDNI, I mean I'm not saying I have the skill at that level, but that's a, that's a key set of skills for them to have as senior intelligence and security advisers, senior officials in these roles. If you, if you think about it in terms of the private sector, I've done a lot of intelligence marketing and sales. Right? To be able to go to these customers and say, "We can answer that question" or "We cannot answer that question. You want it in two weeks? I think it's going to take three. You have five questions? I feel like we can answer four. The fifth I might be able to answer, but it's going to take this much more to be able to get it done, in terms of time or resource commitment. Or I'd have to find this out and then this out, and then this out in order to get there."
David Cattler: And being able to explain not just the power of intelligence to them, but the fact that intelligence does have limitations, is also really very important. My master degree is in policy management, so think like a, like a master of public administration, essentially, so that the civil sector version of the, of the MBA. And I've served in a lot of bureaucracies and usually my focus is then on figuring out the culture, the history, the psychology of that bureaucracy and the way business is done because you have to move in that, you have to work in that system in order to get things done. I'd say that it's really good experience for NATO because it's a multinational environment, it's in a foreign country, and there are 30 nations and there's 75 intelligence services. And so the challenge really is, you have to understand not just the NATO bureaucracy, the permanent staff that the alliance pays for to, to administer its functions, but you also really have to understand the 30 nations and what they want and why they want that.
David Cattler: Shared values, their policy and military priorities, the threats that they perceive to themselves, the value that they seek to draw from the alliance, and the contributions that they wish to make. And so it is really important that you understand that whole, that whole environment and the, and the, if you want to call it a bureaucracy the, the way the bureaucracy comes together.
Dr Andrew Hammond: And let's get back to great power [LAUGHS] competition. Let's change tack. So I think it was Lord, Lord Ismay back in the day, he said [LAUGHS] the goal of NATO was to keep the Germans down, the Americans in and the Russians out. I don't want to touch the first two parts, but [LAUGHS] can we touch on, can we touch on the last one? Russia, obviously for most of NATO's history, Russia was, you know, a major focus. To say it was a major focus would be an understatement, so help us understand Russia now through, through the lens of your position.
David Cattler: So we have, again we have, we have 30 members, many of them are on the eastern flank. So actually share a border with Russia and they, as you'd imagine, the closer you are to Russia, the greater the concern you have about the potential risk. It's not to say the others don't have many of the same views. But I think it's fair to say that, that especially the nations that are, are either former Soviet republics, that are in the alliance as members, or the nations even that were in the Warsaw Pact, have a much different appreciation of that history and the nature of the challenges. Russia is one of them, and terrorism is the other. And so these are things that we have as strategic priorities for both intelligence and security, with many other things we have to monitor. But these are two that are really declared as, as the most important.
David Cattler: So some details on Russia. Look, I think it's fair to say that relations between the NATO member states, NATO as an alliance and Russia, is at the lowest point since the Cold War. In no small part because of Moscow's aggressive actions that threaten security in the Euro Atlantic area. We've seen violent oppression of political dissent in Russia. They undermine and destabilize their neighbors. I mean you can look at the cases of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. They're-- they continue to conduct a wide ranging military build up from the Baltic to the Black Sea, across the mid eastern North Africa, and from the Mediterranean to the Arctic. Allies have called out Russia for disinformation and for propaganda efforts to influence elections. Cyber operations that have been conducted against allies and against our partners. Chemical weapons use against political opponents. Not just at home, but also in NATO member states on our own territory. But nonetheless, NATO has maintained a dual track approach so on the one hand, we have the deterrents and defense, as one of our core approaches and on the other we have dialog. NATO is, notwithstanding all that, still open to dialog with Russia, to try to avoid conflict, try to minimize misunderstandings, reduce the chance of a miscalculation and that sort of thing.
David Cattler: So, we will keep defenses strong, we will be ready to talk and, and we make our positions clear, and we will avoid misunderstanding and, and we will try to prevent escalation. So, you can't work in NATO and not have great focus on Russia and really understand that we will engage Russia and there may be opportunities for things that perhaps we can do together, but there's also a lot of risk and there are a lot of threats that Russia poses to stability and security in Europe, and even here to the United States.
Dr Andrew Hammond: Now I guess I would be interested, as someone that's spent you know, decades in this business and, and given your role now and the centrality of Russia, what, what's your analysis of Russian intelligence at the moment? Do you have any sympathy with this idea that Russia's a, a waning power and these are demonstrations of a system that's getting progressively weaker? I, I guess the question is, help us understand your, your analysis of the, the trajectory of Russia's intelligence services since the, the fall of the Berlin Wall.
David Cattler: Well the Russian services have remained some of the most capable in the world and they've got a very diverse tool kit of things that they can do. And they do a wide range of intelligence and security service operations as well, that range not just from intelligence collection, but as we've seen, again in these poisonings, these attempted assassinations, sabotage operations, also significantly lethal action in these places, against these, the Russian designated targets. They've got tremendous cyber capability in addition to that intelligence collection, intelligence operations and lethal operations capacity. And so they, they should not be discounted. I hear the same thing, and there's plenty of analysis about Russia's a waning power. And I think certainly it's fair to say that, that Russia today is not as, is not as strong, as powerful as we'll say the Soviet Union was, you know, at its peak. But Russia still has strategic capabilities, still have nuclear weapons. They can still conduct short of employment of nuclear weapons at a great range of, of strategically destabilizing activities.
David Cattler: The Russian leadership has a view that they should have, if not the nations that used to be part of the Soviet empire brought back into Russia itself, they certainly have a view that they should have dominance within what they define as their sphere of influence, they usually hear, you know, refer to the term as the near abroad. Well it conflicts with the sovereignty and the national will and the independence of many of their neighbors. So you look at the illegal annexation, right, which is a fancy, political way of saying the theft and occupation of, of your neighboring country, when they took Crimea, interference in, in Ukraine's east, they've done the same in Georgia, they've done the same in Moldova and so on. And so that, that presents a great number of challenges and instability and it's just a gross disrespect for the sovereignty of those nations and the freedom of those people that live in those nations as well.
Dr Andrew Hammond: I want to shift tack now to look at hybrid war. Can you just tell us how NATO is adapting towards that? Because there's been lots of strategic change right? Because it used to be how many, you know, armored divisions do you have? How many aircraft carriers? And so forth, tactical fighter wings. Now hybrid war is something different. We could tie that into it being the weapons of the week [LAUGHS] but let's, let's just stick on this idea of hybrid war. How does the political military alliance that is NATO adapt? Or how is it adapting towards hybrid war specifically with reference to intelligence?
David Cattler: So I should put a plug in for the NATO website www.NATO.int and say that my colleagues in public diplomacy have got a great body of information available. It's publicly accessible about the alliance, and its history and its values. And also about issues like hybrid warfare, and about cyber. Why NATO is focused on them, what NATO cares about, and what NATO means, and I actually did an experts briefing on hybrid warfare that was posted earlier this year. So this is, this is an issue [LAUGHS] that I really focus on. So first I think it's important to make sure that people understand what we mean when we say hybrid warfare. And it's really a term of ours, that refers to things that are short of outright conflict, that can achieve some of the same political ends that war might, that are designed to be concealed, confusing, difficult to understand, difficult to attribute. So you don't necessarily, very difficult to prove, "Well who did that? What does that mean?"
David Cattler: So you could think, cyber in there, election interference, disinformation, but you can also think things like political assassinations and coup attempts, and you could think internal fomenting, internal unrest and all of those things in the space. It's a space in which sometimes intelligence and security services work and do their business, and so we really need to understand this. I think it also challenges things like common situation, a common situational awareness consensus, because you have to orient yourselves to the situation and you have to share an appreciation of what's happening so that you can reach a political agreement that I'm going to-- I can call it what it is. I know who it is. I know what it is. Now I can have a debate about how I best want to address it. So it's really insidious. And a point I made again in that, in that other briefing, is that it can also be deadly. You know, if, if you create uncertainty about the Covid 19 vaccine and people refuse to take it, and they die as a result of Covid, you've meaningfully contributed to that death.
David Cattler: If you conduct a hostile cyber attack and you cut the power off in a target nation's capital, you've also turned power off in hospitals. But what if you're, what if your loved one is on a respirator in that hospital when that, when that hostile cyber attack conducted as a hybrid warfare operation turns the power off? How do you feel about it then? Lithuania right now, you're seeing hybrid attack conducted on them with forced migration on the part of Belarus, across their border and also into Latvia, and into Poland. These are, these are really huge things that happened in this hybrid space. And we do have a lot of focus on understanding it. The alliance has a counterhybrid support team construct that we've used, in fact recently announced in, in Lithuania's case, and we've used it one other time in the past to provide that, the assistance, intelligence assistance, military assistance, political assistance etcetera, to really understand what the nature of the threats are and help those governments make themselves more resilient and respond to the threats at hand.
David Cattler: So we do put a lot of effort in on that. And you can imagine from what I'm saying that the intelligence challenges then are really large because you have a lot more ambiguity, so you have different questions that you have to ask and answer, those answers are often more sensitive than they might otherwise be, given who might actually be involved and what tools they might be using to accomplish those objectives. So it makes it difficult to share, let's say difficult to work with each other in the space, and it can be very politically sensitive. I mean take election interference as an example. Those are sovereign issues. That's a, a sovereign nation that's being interfered with on one of their most fundamental rights for their people. And it's not something, frankly, that, that most nations are going to want to come to the international community for assistance in, and yet increasingly, they almost must, given the nature of these challenges. So hybrid is a, is a huge thing for us to understand.
David Cattler: Cyber, we are retooling for cyber actually. Cyber intelligence and cyber security have been longstanding high priorities for the alliance. And leaders, as I said, did designate cyber as a domain for NATO focus and operations in recent years. So it drives military adaptation, it drives policy work, it also drives,for me then, intelligence and security work for those allied services in that way. We've had a comprehensive cyber adaptation underway that's been led by the Deputy Secretary General, so again to give you a, a really good idea of how important it is for the alliance, that's done in full concert by, by and with the nations and their support. We've changed governance, we've added resources, we just hired a new, a first, chief information officer for the alliance. We'll have cyber security as one of his key tasks and really making that enterprise work, to be well protected. Increased intelligence, increased security and we'll strengthen team work then across the board. Not just in, in the enterprises that I work in, but also in many others in order to, to best protect NATO's cyber.
Dr Andrew Hammond: Just briefly, I just wanted to get, to help our listeners understand a little bit more about your background, obviously that could be a whole podcast in and of itself, but if you just give us like an idea about some of the things that you've done in the past. So maybe we could start off with what, what role did you hold immediately previous to going over to Brussels?
David Cattler: Yes, so immediately prior to this role, I was an Assistant Director of National Intelligence and I was the Chairman of the National Intelligence Management Council within the ODNI, within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. And I, I took on that role as the Chair of that council because immediately prior I had been the National Intelligence Manager for the near east, for a few years. The NIM Council, the National Intelligence Management Council's made up of 17 national intelligence managers, that are the DNIs enterprise leaders, to help him or now her, best understand what the intelligence community can do and what it needs, in terms of authorities, permissions and resources. Where it must go, to help the DNI use that coordinating authority in order to get the agencies to work in concert with each other. And then also just as when I worked for the Chairman, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we'd say the purpose of the Joint Staff is to harness the power of the Chairman on behalf of the Com-- Commands.
David Cattler: What I would say here is, it was to harness the power of the DNI on behalf of the intelligence agencies within our intelligence community. And then finally, to help the DNI be the principal intelligence advisor to the President. And so an important role. But also a really exciting one. And a really good job. And as I said earlier, even in this discussion I think really helped me best prepare for this role. I did not start my career in intelligence. When I, when I was commissioned as an officer in the US Navy, I actually served as a naval surface warfare officer, and I served in cruisers, two on the West coast. So I did a, a deployment, this will really date me, for Operation Southern Watch in the Persian Gulf. So we did a no fly enforcement over Iraq. And then I did a counter narcotics deployment. And on my second cruiser I was selected for the foreign area officers sub specialty, when the navy brought it back in 1995. And in that I had the option to take a range of shore duty assignments that included assignments in intelligence, and that's where I chose to go.
David Cattler: So I actually began my intelligence career as a navy lieutenant, at the office of naval intelligence. And I worked in an office, it's fairly unique, called Spear. And Spear was created to bring naval aviators and one token surface warfare officer, at the time which was me, into the organization to translate highly sensitive, highly compartmented intelligence information, and intelligence assessments, into things that navy and marine corps fleet operators, pilots, air crews, surface ship crews that were air defenders, like the ships I served in, could understand and use. Usually at lower classification levels. And I loved it. And so I, I got the opportunity to go to what then was the Joint Military Intelligence College at night, it's now the National Intelligence University, run by the DNI now, used to be run by DIA. My home agency now in the US. And I, I picked up all the navy sub-specialties for intelligence, op intel, strategic intel, technical intel, and really got into it.
David Cattler: I joined the Naval Intelligence Reserves when I left active duty, served briefly in the private sector, and after 9/11, I, like many other people, returned to public service and then became a civilian working for naval intelligence again, but as a full time professional civil servant working as an intelligence officer. And I've had the opportunity to work at the Pentagon for the navy, for the Pentagon for the Joint Staff, at the Defense Intelligence Agencies, as CT Chief, within the DNI as the National Intelligence Manager for the near east, also as the Principal Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Military Issues. It's a little out of order. I worked briefly at the White House in the previous administration as Deputy Assistant to the President for Regional Affairs, in the National Security Council. Back to the ODNI, and now to NATO to be the Assistant Secretary General for Intelligence and Security.
Dr Andrew Hammond: Wow, that's been quite the journey from a 17 year old boy coming south, from [LAUGHS] from Suffolk County in New York to Annapolis. It's been quite the journey huh?
David Cattler: Yeah.
Dr Andrew Hammond: Yeah.
David Cattler: It's been huge. And I tell you, you know, I graduated in May 26th of 1993 from Annapolis and I was married June 6th of 199-- of 1993. And my wife and I have been together, we've known each other for a really long time even before that and our children are now in their 20s and so this has been, it's been quite the adventure together over that time.
Dr Andrew Hammond: And just briefly, if I remember correctly in the TV series Turn, about the Culper spy ring, [UNSURE OF NAME] has mentioned, did you grow up with the legend of Nathan Hale and Culper and you know, Benjamin Tallmadge andstuff? Was that part of your childhood lore?
David Cattler: You know, it, it's where I'm from, but I wish I'd known that then. I didn't know that until I saw the series too.
Dr Andrew Hammond: OK [LAUGHS].
David Cattler: And it's really too bad because there is a lot of intelligence history on Long Island also that's really worth better understanding in the whole New York area, especially. But yes, Long Island has a rich history in intelligence history as well.
Dr Andrew Hammond: Well thanks ever so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
David Cattler: Yes, thank you. Very happy to be here.
Dr Andrew Hammond: Thanks for listening to this episode of SpyCast. Go to our web page where you can find links to further resources, detailed show notes, and full transcripts. We have over 500 episodes in our back catalog for you to explore. Please follow the show on Twitter at INTLSpycast and share your favorite quotes and insights or start a conversation. If you have any additional feedback, please email us at SpyCast@spymuseum.org. I'm your host, Dr Andrew Hammond, and you can connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter at SpyHistorian. This show is brought to you from the home of the world's pre-eminent collection of intelligence and espionage related artifacts, the International Spy Museum. The SpyCast team includes Mike Mincey and Memphis Vaughn III. See you for next week's show.