Ukraine & the Alliance with NATO’s Assistant Secretary General for Intelligence David Cattler
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David Cattler: I was home, but had not been sleeping well for quite some time before that, because I think we felt our intelligence was really solid, certainly by the point that the war began, that it was imminent. And I think I got into the office less than 30 minutes after that. We had some pretty intense meetings right away, as you can imagine, for media updates, secretary general, the chair of the military committee, some other key officials, my key leadership colleagues on things. And then we started our day. But I'm not going to pretend I still wasn't shocked. It's one thing to know it's coming. But it really is another to see missiles raining down on a city that I had only visited at that point just a few weeks before.
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Andrew Hammond: David Cattler is NATO's Assistant Secretary General for Intelligence and Security. Since leaving Long Island, New York as a 17 year old boy to go to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, David has had all manner of interesting jobs. For example, he has chaired the National Intelligence Management Council, been Deputy Assistant to the President for Regional Affairs, and Deputy Director for Intelligence in the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He began his career as a naval surface warfare officer serving aboard two cruisers, and then transitioned to the Office of Naval Intelligence. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, the National Intelligence University, and the U.S. Naval War College. In this episode, we discuss NATO and intelligence, how the alliance is responding to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, disrupting Russian denial and deception operations, NATO expansion and the addition of new intelligence services, and how NATO is adopting to evolving in disruptive technologies. If you enjoy the show, please tell your friends and loved ones, and consider leaving us a five star review. The original podcast on intelligence since 2006. We are imitated, but never intimidated. We are SpyCast. Now, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. Well, it's a pleasure to speak to you again, David. I really enjoyed speaking to you last year and learning more about your position as the strategic leader for intelligence and security at NATO. So, the first thing that I wanted to ask you was something quite significant has happened since the last time we spoke. So, where were you as the assistant secretary general for intelligence and security at NATO when you heard that Russia had invaded the Ukraine?
David Cattler: Yeah, well thanks. Look, it's great to be back with you, and to continue the conversation we had I think about almost a year ago, or even a little more than a year ago. Look, I think life has changed for all of us. Certainly anyone working in the national security sphere since the 24th of February last year. I'll probably start by saying my life has changed, but my life has changed in pale comparison to the lives of the Ukrainians that are suffering from all this. And I think just important to have that perspective right upfront [inaudible] I think, if memory serves, the air strike started about 4:00 a.m. our time, so I was at home, but had not been sleeping well for quite some time before that, because I think we felt our intelligence was really solid, certainly by the point that the war began, that it was imminent. And I think I got into the office less than 30 minutes after that. We had some pretty intense meetings right away, as you can imagine, for me to update the secretary general, the chair of the military committee, some other key officials, my key leadership colleagues on things. And then we started our day. But I'm not going to pretend I still wasn't shocked. It's one thing to know it's coming. But it really is another to see missiles raining down on a city that I had only visited at that point just a few weeks before. In terms of my role, my respondents really haven't changed that much over the course of Russia's expanded war in Ukraine. I'm going to tell you, I probably have about three times as many engagements and briefings per week than I might have had if we were in let's say a more routine situation where there wasn't a war on the European continent. I typically have a great number of meetings with the secretary general, the deputy secretary general, and the chair of the military committee over the course of a week. Usually where I'm going to give an intelligence update. Usually I'll provide a briefing to the North Atlantic Council probably about every week, at least one, sometimes more than one in a week. And we're constantly publishing intelligence products that go out to all 30 of the delegations, now also to the two invitees of Finland and Sweden. That includes current intelligence that we use for situational awareness several times a week, and also longer term intelligence to capture issues that are more strategic in nature. My key partner on the military side at SHAPE, so that's the key military command within NATO, is the J2, so the chief intelligence officer in the military who performs a very similar role to mine, but at SHAPE headquarters in Mons. It's about an hour south of here. And also my deputy for intelligence who currently is a German 2 star, is also flagged to the military side of the house, he briefs the military committee every morning. I'm at a briefing in the military committee every other week myself, usually as part of a path to a meeting of the North Atlantic Council on the same topic. So, let's say they're going to discuss the activities of Russian forces stationed in Belarus. I'll provide the briefing to the military committee first, or my deputy will, with maybe a little bit more military oriented detail. And then I'll give a more politically oriented briefing to the diplomats in the North Atlantic Council later in that same week. And that's all part of making sure that the military committee has the right intelligence pictured to give military advice to the North Atlantic Council. I also do a lot of informal work, so I'll communicate with the heads of the allied intelligence and security services as often as I can in writing, and by telephone and by e mail. I also send them a lot of informal notes. I should say with the partners also. But not with the same frequency or always to the same extent. Many of them, allies and partners, have representatives to support that work and those engagements here in the headquarters environment. And I'll see them on a regular basis in formal committee meetings or in informal meetings. And then I also travel a lot to allied and partner nations as well, including in Kiev just earlier this month again. That was my first trip back since the war started. And these are all very important visits for us to hear from each other. So, between headquarters, NATO, those services, and these nations, you hear about what their priorities are, where their initiatives are taking them, and for me to give them feedback, for them to give me feedback as well. So, I think, I'll just wrap up on this one and tell you it's been a really challenging year in terms of the pace. But I've also really appreciated the significantly increased appetite for intelligence within NATO, and the critical importance to our work when it comes to allied decision making.
Andrew Hammond: That's really fascinating. And there's a few things that I would like to pick up on there, but just before we get there, the head of the J2 is [inaudible].
David Cattler: The former J2, when I first arrived, was a Norwegian general. The current is a Polish general. And that shows you the changes that can be made, again, across the 30 allies. They will compete, military officers will also compete, be nominated for that role. The same as I competed for my role. So, just here as at SHAPE, I'm the first American to have the role here as the assistant secretary general. But my predecessor was, in fact, a German diplomat. And then we'll see my successor should arrive in December of this year. And, you know, the competition will determine who the individual is, and then correspondingly the nationality.
Andrew Hammond: And just to give our listeners into a little insight into the workings of NATO, I know that French and the English are the official languages. But just on an everyday sense, when you communicate with your Polish counterpart and German deputies, is it English that you're generally talking?
David Cattler: Yeah, you know, my wife and I talked about this often, and joke about it. I think something I'd say, especially to an American audience, is that you don't realize the privilege we have as Americans and English speakers until you live in a foreign country in which English is not actually one of the official languages. And here in Belgium, it's French Flemish, right, a dialect of Dutch German as well. There's some pockets of native German speakers here in Belgium also. And English may at some point in the future be one of the official languages to be the fourth. But the reality is that this is a country in which people primarily speak either, either French or Dutch. In NATO, as you said, there are two official languages; English and French. Every NATO employee has a requirement to have a very high level of proficiency in at least one of the two languages. And then at least a beginner proficiency in the second. But I'll also tell you, I mean, I'm regularly involved in interviewing and evaluating people who take on posts here. And I find, get a little bit embarrassed. I mean, I think I speak English fluently. I had a fluency in French. I've been working and getting back in the time I've been here. But I would tell you that I am routinely coming into contact with people like my own executive assistant I think speaks five languages. And all of those fluently. So, there are many, many languages spoken here within the headquarters from all of the nations. But for official business, yes, back to where we started, it's both English and French.
Andrew Hammond: And I want to unpack Ukraine a little bit more. But just when you were talking there about visiting Kiev for the first time since the war had broke out, could you just tell us what that experience was like for you?
David Cattler: Well, you know, it is an active war zone. And so there's a lot of work we have to do for the security procedures to come in and be safe and move around and do our business. A lot of that enabled and cooperation with many actors, including the Ukrainians themselves, in order to get that done. It really kind of striking in a few ways. I think one thing probably lead with is that you're very struck by how resilient Ukraine is, and the Ukrainians are. And the importance that they've attached to living their lives to getting work done to stay organized, stay together, and to continue to resist this Russian invasion. And then ultimately prevail and win the war. And I really felt that, it's just universal, whether people are in the military or otherwise in the government or just out on the street. The other thing that was quite striking to me is that at least in Kiev, there's still normal traffic, and businesses are open, and people are moving around. I mean, certainly there are security restrictions, and there aren't as many people as there were in Kiev before the war. But there is a lot of normal life. Normal life in a war. And sadly in a city that's been attacked many times since February 24th of last year. But nonetheless, life is still going on. But I guess my final point in answer to you would be that it is very striking when you see the physical security measures that they've had to put in place, you know, to provide better protection, for example, around key government locations, and some restrictions on movement there, sandbags on the street and windows, you know, obstacles so vehicles can't drive through, and a whole lot more focus on being safe, and, you know, ready to move if you need to to a bomb shelter and that kind of thing. It's sad, you know, that they have to live through that. But as I say, fiercely willing to stand and fight for themselves. And you really do feel that when you talk to them, and you just walk around. So, very, very useful visit. And as you can imagine, they're not just for the substance of the discussions and the work we're able to accomplish together. But also for the opportunity to really come and experience it and see it, even if briefly.
Andrew Hammond: What was quite fascinating to me, when we spoke the other year, you're already very busy. But now if you're doing two or three times as much, it must be a very full on and demanding position. So, I guess one of the things that I wanted to ask was have you managed to extract yourself from the daily, you know, revolving rotation of events and meetings and so forth? And just ever think about whether or not this is accelerated to the existing trends and processes with regards to intelligence that we spoke about in the last interview? So, I'm thinking about institutionalizing intelligence, really embedding it right throughout the institution that's been around since 1949. So, is this in a way helping you do your job with regards to intelligence and NATO?
David Cattler: Yeah, look, there's a lot in that. And I think a few ways I tackle it in response to you. I'll use some NATO language right upfront and say that we are maintaining a 360 degree perspective. We can, in fact, do more than one thing at a time. And we're required to do more than one thing at a time. I'm often asked a related question, which is are you only focused on Russia's war in Ukraine, and the answer there is no, I am not only focused on Russia's war in Ukraine. I put a great degree of attention to it, and a whole lot of care. But the fact is I am required to ensure that the intelligence and security capabilities are really focused in this 360 degree perspective, which means that we will look all around NATO's area of responsibility. And that's a geographically defined the Atlantic area. But as I think we discussed last time, it's also increasingly global, and increasingly functional. Things like on the latter of like cyber, hybrid issues, space issues. The next thing I tell you is that my focus here at headquarters really is strategic in its nature. The military commands at SHAPE and the other components we have in this NATO intelligence enterprise are more at the operational to tactical level. My division and the teal here at headquarters is really at the strategic to higher level operational level. And that hasn't changed. But having this 360 degree approach, and the idea of an enterprise, gets to the issue of resilience. I think what it accelerated, we talk about building institutional capacity, was being ready for the sort of issue, the sort of crisis, this war, and being resilient in the approach, so that we can, in fact, do things at 360 degrees and take a look at more than one issue at the same time. I think we talk often about organizations and individuals rising to the moment, you know, and being capable. And that sounds like a great, a great thing. But I would tell you that I think collectively, what you see NATO do is actually be ready for the moment itself. NATO had risen earlier than that particular moment on February 24th, and was ready for it in multiple dimensions. Not just my own in intelligence and security. I can tell you that intelligence sharing has certainly stepped up, and did step up in the months preceding the invasion. And that was really formalized during the NATO leaders meeting here in Brussels in March of 2022, particularly with regard to in improving shared situational awareness, especially on cyber. And that sharing of intelligence really is critical to the alliance. It's important for decision making so that we can understand what's happening in all these regions of concern and all these issues. It's also really important, though, because the alliance obviously makes decisions. And the alliance acts now at 30, soon to be 31, and hopefully soon also at 32. We do have 30 members of the alliance right now, and they have to achieve consensus. And I argue, and I think pretty clear in practice and intelligence is a key component of that decision making process, as they assess the environment and the situation. And the security has to be really good around all that. Very difficult Tom see where you could get better intelligence, make good decisions. But if you're incapable of protecting them properly from a security perspective, you could lose the value of all of that effort. Also really deep in cooperation with Ukraine, with others, with other partners. And we've also deepened our cooperation even within the alliance on a whole broad range of issues. So, I guess I'm kind of giving you a mixed answer. I feel like it was more and certainly accelerated trends and processes. But I think what it's really shown is how valuable the things are that we do. It's made us realize how important they are and really focus on sustaining that performance. And I think in that it's shown that we can stand the test, and it's given us a good sense of where we need to go in the future.
Andrew Hammond: I remember reading, I think it was last month, CIA director Bill Burns, he said the intelligence sharing amongst the NATO members is foundational to keep the alliance together for supporting Ukraine.
David Cattler: I don't know the exact line. But I completely agree. And I think certainly in the U.S., I think in most of the nations, intelligence and security tends to take a very, very prominent role. In fact, a leading one in national security decision making. So, having good intel sharing, not just of data, but also of analytic views, the insights, the meaning of what that intelligence information tells us, is really crucially important. And as I say, it's not just about having the right warning in advance and having the right information to take the decision, but I'll also tell you that consensus can be enabled if you share enough of the intelligence information that the nations and capitals and here in Brussels at NATO headquarters can understand why the other nations say and think the things that they do. And, again, I talk a lot about intelligence, but I really do need to emphasize that it's the security is just as important as the intelligence is then to ensure that you have the right trust in place and the right relationships, the confidence that you can share that kind of information, have the expertise, and not worry about it being compromised.
Andrew Hammond: So, I guess the next question is, has this made the task of managing the relationships with 75 intelligence agencies more difficult or more easy or it's just another fight that has to be taken into account? I mean, you've already addressed in your previous answers, but I just wondered if you had any additional thoughts on that.
David Cattler: Yeah, I'll probably reiterate the point I made in the other podcast, but I think worth doing so. Start by highlighting that NATO has nothing that the allies choose not to provide. And that includes the personnel and the information that I rely on, and the nations rely on, that come from my division. So, critically important that the nations have that trust and participate in these frameworks so that we have information and key expertise that fills out the NATO intelligence enterprise. We also need to ensure that we have the same intelligence driven facts that can go to all 30 nations at the same time. Drawing on the best of all that those nations can provide to NATO. Synthesized here within the division and elsewhere in that enterprise could be, again, at the military command at SHAPE, or even elsewhere. And in many cases, by the nations themselves. And that draws on the information expertise of those 75 military and civilian intelligence and security services from those 30 nations. I think what you tend to see in the business, in the operation then of that, is really a virtuous cycle. If I have confidence that I can trust and I can share the information, and I know it's going to be used responsibly, and I see that it's interpreted and informs a rich debate, decisions are taken, and actions then consequently flow, it's important to me, I can see the value then of sharing my information. It's not going to be lost, compromised, it's going to be properly interpreted, and it's going to achieve effect. So, the purpose, the value is there to do that. So, that really gets to the return on investment. I mean, I think we tend to be really hard nosed in the intelligence business about, not just about the need for high level trust, but also that we don't, we don't just do things to do things when we share information, or we work together. We're doing it because we trust each other, and we see that there's, that there's value. It's really important business, and it takes a lot of work to get to that level of trust. So, we need to make decisions about what we're going to do together, and what we're going to share. And in many ways, the war has brought us all on the same page with regard to these challenges. And that's made part of the job easier. And what I mean to say there, just to be really clear, is there is a war in Europe. This is the largest war with the greatest effect of any war in Europe since World War II. That in itself puts a very high imperative out into the system, into the intelligence and security services, and elsewhere, and national security enterprises. So, you've got a high priority, very high level of demand. And then when you already have confidence that the system is responsible, capable, and valuable, you're increasingly willing to work. So, the services trust us then to be objective, and also fairly represent their intelligence to decision makers within NATO. And, again, this is what I'm talking about when I say we've got this virtuous cycle going.
Andrew Hammond: Just as a lead up to my next question, so the relevance of NATO and the current era, so, you know, you mentioned that before the interview, that your mother in law listened to our last interview, and she really enjoyed and appreciated it, and got a better sense of what you were doing. So, the people that listen to our podcast can be from people that are working the issues and intelligence agencies through to people like your mother in law. So, just for the sake of the latter group, NATO founded 1949, 30 members, North Macedonia is the most recent member that has joined the 2020, and then this very day, which we're going to go to discuss, Turkey has said that they are going to allow Finland to join. To, basically there's going to be 31 members. And then Sweden might be next. So, the purpose was tying North American security to Western European security. But then when the Berlin Wall comes down, the Soviet Union dissolves, there's some people saying, well, why do we need NATO anymore? It's kind of archaic, it's not really relevant anymore. Do you feel that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has conclusively answered this question why do we still need NATO?
David Cattler: Yeah, look, I'm pretty passionate. I'm a little biased, obviously, because I work here. But I would say that yes, I do think we still need NATO. And I think it's clear, I think it's been clear for many years, but especially now, NATO was really founded to ensure the collective security of its members. And specifically the people that live in those countries within those nations. And that's why I think at the core of it NATO has always had an enduring purpose, and really enduring value. If we talk about some of the history recently, look, I mean, Russia's brutal war of aggression in Ukraine didn't start in 2022. It actually started in 2014. At least in Ukraine. It started 2008 in Georgia. Even earlier in some other places. And I think we can see now that this was clearly part of a pattern of aggressive behavior by Russia against NATO allies, and also against our partners. We've seen it include cyber-attacks, assassinations, sabotage on allies soil, interference in elections, massive disinformation campaigns, and also the weaponization of commodity markets. Now you see that during this conflict. This is a pattern and strategic intent that was made really painfully evident in the ultimatums that were issued by Moscow in the NATO Russia Council, January, so just a month before this invasion or expanded invasion. And I think we have to remember that Moscow's demands and the subsequent aggression in the war are really driven by Putin's desire to wholly remake the European security order, to return to the Cold War days of spheres of influence, and to abandon post World War II norms regarding sovereignty and self determination. So, I mean, a lot of that is political science language. So, I'd just say, I mean, person to person, it's not just about Ukraine. It really is about what kind of world we all want to live in. There are rules. And the rules really do establish that nations of people have rights to be free, to make decisions for themselves, to be sovereign, to be safe within their own borders, to be free from harm, and certainly free from being threatened, in the way that we have seen here. Not just with war at a high level. But if you look at the nature of it in this case, I mean, with really horribly evident cases of murder and rape, torture, theft, kidnapping, and forced deportation, I mean, it's hard to say. But I think these are things that people really need to see. That is one of the reasons why this alliance was founded, and one of the reasons why this alliance I think will always have enduring value, to ensure that that kind of violence is never visited upon any of the members of NATO. Look, I think Putin probably expected a very easy fight when his forces invaded on the 24th. But I think history is going to record something very different. History is going to remember the courage of the Ukrainian people. History is also going to remember the determination and strength of the NATO alliance, and the work that all of the allies have done within the alliance and in other formats. Our relationships with our partners. And a year later, the NATO nations still stand strong in condemning the Russian invasion. And I think they're more unified and resolute than ever. You've heard our leaders say that we as an alliance, and the nations, who are determined to stand with Ukraine's brave defenders for as long as it takes. We're also determined to protect every inch of NATO territory. Now, I think, you know, just two points to end on. I think first is if Russia succeeds in destroying Ukraine, which is Putin's stated goal, there's going to be a lesson to all nations that strong nations can invade with impunity, that right makes right. And I just go back to it is against international law. But I think fundamentally on a human level, we know that's not right. But I think the other thing I'd say is that Putin also tried to make clear before the war that he wanted less NATO. And with Finland now being agreed by Turkey as the last NATO member to ratify and join the alliance, and hopefully, as I say, Sweden soon, NATO, he doesn't have less NATO, he has more NATO now than he had before the war. And that shows, given the seat change in the politics, and in popular views within Finland and Sweden, how profound of an effect the war has had on people all over the world. But especially here in Europe, and especially close to Russia.
Andrew Hammond: In case you're not familiar with NATO, to help you digest the content of this episode, here are eight facts about the alliance. One, it was founded in 1949 with 12 founding members. Two, it has expanded to 31 members with Finland literally joining this month, April 2023, to be the 34th member. Three, it was formerly focused on Western Europe and North America, but has steadily grown to include the Mediterranean, and the former of Greece and Turkey, the Balkans, and Central and Eastern European states who were formerly behind the iron curtain. Four, on eligibility, NATO says NATO membership is open to quote any other European state and a position to further the principles of the treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area, closed quotes. Five, all the sessions are taken by consensus. A NATO decision then, as the expression of the collective will of all 31 member countries. Six, you will often hear of Article 5 with regards to NATO. This refers to the idea of collective defense, collective security, which is at the heart of the organization. Put simply, an attack on one is an attack on all. It doesn't matter if that's the United States that it's attacked or North Macedonia. Seven, during the Cold War, the Soviet Union formed the Warsaw Pact of those similar lanes. An important difference would be that the club itself can be turned on you if you did not adhere to the dominant collective ideology. For example, the largest ever deployment of Warsaw Pact forces was during Operation Danube, which suppressed the liberalization efforts of the 1968 Prague Spring through the use of half a million troops and 6,000 tanks. Eight, to join NATO, it normally takes a few years. But Finland's application went through extremely quickly. It's still not an overnight process, though. You need to meet five requirements. Your military must be under civilian control. You must respect the sovereignty of your neighbors. You must uphold democracy. You must be working towards compatibility with NATO forces. And you must be working towards a market economy. Finland met these military, economic, and political requirements rather easily. But you still have to be invaded by a consensus of existing NATO members.
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Andrew Hammond: Just under the point of being biased then, maybe this is biased on my behalf as well. But, you know, you're an American who's now living in Europe, and I'm a European who's now living in America. And it's very self evident to me how interlinked the collective security of both of those two spheres is. I was probably a little bit imprecise in my language describing NATO. So, collective security, then the Cold War is, you know, a significant factor. But then when the Cold War ends, some people don't see clearly how the Cold War can be desegregated from NATO. But actually what you're saying is that the collective defense continues beyond any particular, you know, Cold War, post Cold War, post Russia invasion of Ukraine. So, the collective security is the underlying thing. It wasn't the Cold War.
David Cattler: Yeah, that's exactly right. You probably put it a little clearer than I did. But I think, I mean, remember back to that time at the end of the Cold War, there were a lot of really serious political scientists who wrote things, like Fukuyama saying it was the end of history, and we were in a, we were in a new era. And I think, I mean, as strange as this is, if you take a look at the NATO strategic concept from a decade ago, there was hope that Russia could, in fact, be a partner to the alliance, that there were opportunities to work with Russia. Notwithstanding all of the other things that I've gone through here. You think about how much the world has changed between now and then, just in that last 10 year period. It is a bit different. I mean, it's a little trite, you know, everybody says all the time, I mean, the world is constantly changing, and the pace of change is accelerating, and those things. And, okay. I don't know how far I tend to go in that, and agree. But I would say that I think when you look at organizations like this, I am mindful of the point that I've made that you've helped me reinforce, you know, that the underlying issue was really about the collective security, and doing things together as a group of like minded nations. But I'd add two other things. I think the second, really to emphasize, are the values of the alliance as ensconced within the Washington Treaty, the founding treaty of the alliance, really are about things that are commonly held and subscribed to by the members and things. And I tell you as an American, and I know that you as a European share, about freedom and self determination, and human rights, territorial integrity, about the right to be free, and to be safe within your country. I think these are all things that I think any reasonable person is going to have a very hard time disagreeing with, and protecting them is really of the upmost importance. And then finally I think you've got that about the values. But then there's this idea that, look, I mean, if you had to form an alliance like this today with 30, 31, or 32 members, because you were in crisis, or a crisis was coming, could you do it? I don't know. I don't know that you could. I mean, here we're, it's almost, for 49, it's almost sent me five years of work to get to this level of institutional capability and sophistication of commonality and consensus. Takes a lot of time. Takes a lot of effort to build that, and a pretty big vision. And I'm really proud. When you look at the history that the founders of the alliance had that vision, and were so committed to those values that bring the alliance together, I really do think it's irreplaceable, and incredibly valuable, not just to the group as a whole, but to every single nation within it, including the United States.
Andrew Hammond: It seems to me that NATO is even more capable of opposing Russian aggression than it was at any time during the Cold War. The alliance is much bigger. There's more countries, it's more capable. And in terms of strategic trajectory, Russia's definitely not as strong as it was when it was the Soviet Union during the Cold War. So, it seems to me that, yeah, you mentioned this earlier, NATO has just got stronger because of this. And Russia has not really moved forward. Would you agree?
David Cattler: Yeah, I would. But just a few, add a few points. Look, let's leave aside the fact that the Russian military has been severely damaged and degraded by this war in Ukraine. NATO's prepared for the responsibility of a, of a war of any kind on a range of scales to be fought in the Euro Atlantic area for a long time. And it's, again, one of the central, central purposes of the alliance. So, it's not as if we just woke up on the 24th of February and realized that Russia was dangerous. We did predict the invasion I think very precisely, as even the public has seen by our intelligence. We shared a lot of those intelligence reports in private and in public, certainly by the fall of 2021. And we really did accurately foresee that Russia was building up and likely was planning to invade Ukraine. And, of course, you also saw the alliance and others work very hard to the very end to try to prevent that from happening. We met with Russia, we engaged with Russia, but they continue with their plans, and they invaded Ukraine anyway. So, the reality is we've also been preparing for that, from a deterrence and defense perspective, since at least 2014 when Russia first invaded Ukraine. And that's the reason why we've also increased our presence in the eastern part of the alliance, why NATO allies are investing more in defense, and why collectively we've increased our readiness. We're also strengthening capabilities for the long term to deter and defend against all threats across all domains. You've seen us subcreate defense plans, putting more forces at higher levels of readiness. But there's still much more to do. Even as there's a huge effort underway to support Ukraine in these critical months ahead, you're also seeing allies and the EU working in the space too to replenish ammunition stockpiles and other systems to strengthen deterrence and defense for the long term. In terms of Putin miscalculating or underestimating the strength of NATO, and I'm kind of bringing to a focus here, I don't believe that Putin or the Russians more broadly have ever underestimated NATO's physical force strength, you know, the military capabilities. But I think he clearly vastly underestimated the strength of Transatlantic unity and alliance solidarity. I think the democracies of the world have unified in a way that I don't think he foresaw. I think the West has proven to be much stronger and much mover in solidarity than he thought would be the case and probably hoped would be the case. I think we've also likely exceeded his expectations in terms of our capacity. We joined together as an alliance across the world to counter Russia. You see that particularly on sanctions. One of the things I think is remarkable in that area is how the coalition of states have enacted those sanctions have been capable of watching how the invasion has been operating on Russia's side, adjusting in response, and through that maintaining pressure that exists in the space. But I wrap up my answer to you by saying, you know, we talk about the central purpose of the alliance. We have three primary missions. But when you take the collective defense, we talk a lot about deterrence and defense. I think deterrence has worked, and it's obvious the defense is ready. And I say that deterrence works, because, again, we've been very clear that we will not allow one inch of NATO territory to be attacked. And there have not been attacks on NATO territory. And I think that's in no small part due to the excellent diplomacy, and the great military capability that the alliance has within it, and that the states have within that alliance.
Andrew Hammond: And what role is NATO intelligence playing in the Ukraine conflict?
David Cattler: Well, we talked a bit about the role of intelligence in the run up to, and since Russia's invasion. And I think that really is a new chapter, what you see here in the use of intelligence in international affairs. In particular I'm talking about here is certain allies being willing to declassify information and assessments to support warnings of imminent Russian aggression. I mean, you saw that I think tremendously from the U.S., also from the UK. We and media organizations also, when I say we, I mean services also draw on open source intelligence to make warnings more compelling to the public. And also to explain to governments as well what we're seeing, and what we think it means. And through all that, I think we made it possible to preempt some Russian attempts at denial and deception, to frankly preempt some lies to poke holes in some lies by giving us the opportunity to rebut and discredit those arguments before Moscow could even make some of them. More generally within NATO, I think during my tenure here, we've really built the role of intelligence and security. As we discussed in the last podcast, I'm only the second ASG in the role. I've been here since December of 2019. My term will end in December of this year. My predecessor was here from 2016 when the division was founded, his post was created, and the enterprise concept was brought together. And he was here for three years. And as I say, I really do feel like the capability is just impressive when you think about the diversity and strength of those 75 services working in concert with each other. And enabling that enterprise that NATO intelligence enterprise and the security capabilities to do what it needs to do. And that's all been really clarified by the war. You know, as I say, more to the American audience, but I think this will resonate with others too, I feel like my job is a combination of a bit of what the DNI does, the director of national intelligence. A bit of what the undersecretary of Defense for intelligence and security does at the Pentagon. And a bit of what the joint staff, J2, does, in terms of managing at the strategic level interactions with the broader interagency we say in the U.S. with the White House and with the other departments and agencies. But also with the military. And then also with other nations. So, I see my role as one that's active and participating, providing intelligence to decision makers, but also providing advice informed by allied intelligence. And that's not just me. Again, I've got a lot of really talented people I work with here. Great, great partners in the nations, in those services, and elsewhere. And also out into the partner nations that we work with. And I just ask you to keep in mind that this joint intelligence and security vision that I lead is also joint military and civilian. It's the only one designed that way at NATO. We do draw from military and civilian intelligence. So, if you have more of a political question, it's probably more appropriate for civilian service. But if you have military question, probably more appropriate for a military Intel service. But we do look across the board. And my division provides that consolidated support, as I said in the beginning, to both the North Atlantic Council and the military committee. So, I see my job, our job collectively. It helps synchronize that effort by bringing the best of intelligence to bear at or before the moment of decision. It doesn't matter which nation the information or the expertise comes from. It doesn't matter which service. It doesn't matter whether it's military or civilian. We just go to get the best intelligence that those 30 nations and 75 or so services can provide, so that the very best decisions can be, can be taken here, and then actions can flow from those.
Andrew Hammond: I'm trying to formulate a way to help our listeners understand intelligence that NATO compared to its constituent members. So, its constituent members of intelligence agencies, they gather intelligence. Sometimes they will give it just directly through Ukraine. But other times, it will flow through NATO, or intelligence at NATO is responsible for specifically consuming and disseminating intelligence on behalf of the alliance specifically. So, imagine every, every intelligence agency prints money, and money is the currency. And NATO doesn't print its own money, currency from other countries passes through, and then sometimes that is passed onto Ukraine. Help me just understand the production of intelligence and the role that NATO plays in its dissemination.
David Cattler: Yeah, so I think you've got a good sense of the challenge in the way that pose the question.
Andrew Hammond: That's why it's a difficult answer, because it's difficult.
David Cattler: Yeah, and as I said, you know, in the last time you and I spoke, again, the D&I, you know, with 19 different components, some of the same issues, even just within one country, it can be challenging, you know, when you look at the size, not just the numbers, but, again, the size of the system that the U.S. has, it can also be very challenging to do that enterprise management, and do, and do a lot of that synchronization of views and things and actions. So, a couple things. I just split your question apart. And I'd say there's one issue, which is what do nations actually do when we come together. And then the other, you're asking about, is how are we working with Ukraine. In nations will work within NATO as part of that alliance framework in order to ensure that the alliance, again, can take decisions and act. And those are, there's a set of defined operations capabilities, needs, all those things that we have. And I do help set strategic intelligence requirements on a regular basis. And that's then what we use to communicate with nations to say, you know, we have a list of certain things we need. Please take a look. And if you can help satisfy these, please choose to do so, either with information or also with personnel in order to address those. And a lot of that, as I said, remember, is not just to answer specific questions, but it's also to help make decisions and to take action. So, we will draw on intelligence and security capabilities to better understand issues that we need to deal with, like cyber threats or terrorism. And also to do some things that are maybe more positive and a little less threat specific first, like to provide a defense capability building and capacity building to help with political institutional capacity building, to help governments in places either within the alliance or outside the alliance benefit from NATO's assistance and expertise. And some of that is, in fact, helped by, if not also within a lane of security cooperation. So, we use it for our own work, just as much as we use it for let's say pure intelligence business about briefing on something, or writing on something, to explain a problem. On the Ukraine side, you know, NATO has had a longstanding partnership with Ukraine. And we cooperate with Ukraine in many dimensions. And the security sphere is one of those. Nations in this alliance are completely sovereign. They participate within the alliance. They participate in things outside the alliance. Some have similar purpose, like their cooperation with Ukraine. They can do so as NATO members. And they can do so as individual states. And you do see a lot of that go on here. So, I just, I can't go too far into it, but I'll just say, you know, part of my role here is to try to work with the nations to really understand who are you working with, what are you doing, you know, what are you providing, how can I help, what's the role here, how do I assist? Because I also am engaging with Ukrainians. I mean, as I said, I've traveled to Ukraine now a few times. And just most recently even earlier this month. And I talk to my colleagues, counterparts there, really frequently. So, it's, it's really important for us to talk and be on the same page and understand what's happening. But I think people should just understand that the nations can choose what they do through the alliance and what they can do outside on their own.
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Andrew Hammond: I spent three years at Joint Headquarters Rheindahlen, JHQ, in Germany, near the Dutch border, in the former British zone of occupation. Rheindahlen was formerly the headquarters for the British Army of the Rhein, RAF Germany, NATO's Northern Army Group, and NATO's Second Allied Tactical Air Force. Key planks of forward defense in Germany.
[ Foreign Language Spoken ]
While there, I ran in the Berlin and Vienna marathons, ran wild on the command library, and learned now extremely rusty German.
[ Foreign Language Spoken ]
While there, this was 2001 to 2004, I worked in a photographic intelligence section, the last truckle of RAF personnel in Germany. One day, I walked out of the fence, and elements of a British army armor division were standing around their vehicles in the car park. When they spotted me in my Air Force uniform, they collectively, around 30 of them, started humming the [foreign phrase] from the movie.
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They were doing arm lift bands, all of the motions, the full nine yards.
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I had a season ticket for the German soccer team [foreign name]. I lived in barracks behind the American PX. And while I was there on 9/11 and the Iraq War went down.
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This whole time in the morning when I awoke, occasionally hungover, or when I was going to bed, occasionally drunk, I would think about moreover and obsess about a sticker on a wardrobe I inherited in my room that said NATO [foreign phrase]. The way of history would fill my dreams and haunt my days. And [inaudible] if I awoke I'd hear that soft murmur of a continent [inaudible] those labored words, pregnant with expectation, gave me, gave those to those broad sunlit all blinds.
[ Foreign Language Spoken ]
Peace and freedom for Europe, we are there. Well, almost.
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This is really, really fascinating to me. And so there's a lot that we could unpack in terms of evolutions and intelligence more generally. But I feel like that could be an entire podcast in and of itself. So, just briefly, because on SpyCast, our listeners and those have been going on a journey to try to get our heads around artificial intelligence. So, just briefly, is there, is there something that you're already thinking about how to be, how do we start dealing with this? And I know it's a big question, and I know that it's a multiyear, probably multi ASG solution, but I just wondered if you just had a brief set of thoughts on AI, and NATO intelligence.
David Cattler: Yeah, just a couple brief answers then. I mean, I've been involved in experimentation with artificial intelligence now for several years, even before I came here. Both within intelligence and security and outside intelligence and security as we look just at its utility to help national security decision making, and help better make sense of big quantities of data. I've always been a big proponent of it, because I think increasingly the challenge that we have is that there is so much useful information that you really need some sort of assistance to help you curate and organize and query that data. Almost to remind you of information that you already have so that you can gain the benefit maybe of a pattern that exists that you can't detect, but the computer can help you find. And looking to the future and actually better forecast a bit what a range of potential outcomes are and give you some sense of the probability. I would also tell you, I think artificial intelligence has got great promise in intelligence and security to help us better focus human beings on the things that they must make the final decision on. So, let's have the artificial intelligence, let's have the, let's have the computer do the work for us to sift through these huge quantities of data, and then flag anomalies, or flag things for us that require further attention. I think the challenge we have now, we've had now for probably over a decade, is that we used to talk about trying to find a needle in a haystack. But I think the problem now is the entire haystack is made of needles. And what you're trying to do is find the right bunch of those needles in there to answer your question. So, you really do need some, you need some automated tools in order to better do that. Final thing I'd say this in response to you, though, is, because I was an analyst first too in the business. And sometimes what I just said scares analysts silly. Because what they hear me saying is so, so, in that future, you just need Skynet, so to speak, to tell you what the answer is. You don't need me at all. Which no, actually. I've already said you need a human to make the final decision, not the computer. So, you need the human to actually use a human person's brain instinct, lived experience, with a cueing farmer, with the assistance of the artificial intelligence. And I think you also need the human to understand what questions are the most important questions to ask. I mean, you think about Spock on the Starship Enterprise, he had a lot of things in his head. But I think his real strength was that he could ask the computer the best question to get the computer to give him the answer to the problem at hand. So, I think there will always be that need for the analyst as Spock, if you will, in that dynamic, to use the artificial intelligence as an instrument, as a lever, to better go through that, to better leverage that really high quantity of highly valuable potential information, to turn that into knowledge.
Andrew Hammond: For intelligence and security at NATO, like how are they onboarded or dealt with or forecasted? So, you know, the big trends, quantum, AI, the [inaudible], all of these types of things, is that really something that would be done more at the level of individual nation states, and NATO, through the floor of personnel, it would be gradually onboard down to NATO, or do you have a separate future unit, or something like this? I'm just trying to get a sense of how user dealing with the changes and intelligence more generally.
David Cattler: Yeah, so that's evolved quite a bit. Even just in the time I've been here. We do have a staff that takes a look at emerging and disruptive technologies. I think really mostly divided between three entities, at least in the headquarters environment. One is NATO does have a chief scientist. And I think he has the lead responsibility really for that, from a science and technology perspective, to help understand those technologies currently, and to do some of the long range forecast in horizon scanning. I have a counterpart ASG, David van Weel, who's the ASG for Emerging Security Challenges, who has the lead for the policy aspects of emerging and disruptive technologies. And then there's me really for in NATO jargon for the red picture, for the intelligence driven perspective on that. And I am, as you've said, drawing on not just some expertise that I have here, and other expertise, maybe in that, in that emerging security challenges division, or in the office of the chief scientist, but also, again, back in the nation's capitals, back in those services. And by extension, within their ministries, especially ministries of defense and so on. But I also say it's accelerating, because NATO has opened a new capability after the summit last year called DIANA. And that's essentially an innovation accelerator for the alliance. The headquarters for DIANA, in fact, was just opened today, I believe, in London. And is intended to bring together innovation nodes from nations that choose to contribute, which is now a great, great number of them in the alliance. Capabilities like we have in the U.S. and Iorpa [phonetic], or Ndorpa [phonetic], for example, in Silicon Valley and the private sector and in some other places. Many nations have similar equivalent capabilities that they can choose. And I say many have chosen to align with this so that we can have a collective effort focused on innovation and information exchange, improved interoperability. And more importantly, and you get it, again, in the title, this acceleration of the innovation together. And relatedly, they're also willing to put real money behind it. So, leaders also agreed last year to create an innovation fund that will be managed to put some targeted investments from an alliance perspective against some of those promising emerging technologies to deal with some of the most challenging problems that the alliance faces as a whole. And in doing so then, all of the NATO members will benefit from that innovation, and the technological solution.
Andrew Hammond: And just as we move onto the final part of the interview, it's quite interesting that we speak today, because DIANA has been opened, and also because Turkey has said that they will ratify Finland joining NATO. So, I just thought to myself, you know, it's come a long way, right, from 1949, 12 members, to 2023, we're going to have 31 members. This is another 1,300 miles of border with Russia. So, I know that this could be [inaudible] again a podcast in and of itself. But assuming that this is going to be the topic, or already has been the topic of numerous meetings that you have been involved in as well?
David Cattler: Yeah, look, I mean, when I arrived in December of 2019, we had 28 allies. And I'm hopeful that by the time I leave, and certainly I'm even more hopeful that before the summit, we'll have 32 members, we've also really drawn the partners much more closely to us. Certainly since, since the war started in February of last year. But I think you should see us say things and take some real steps towards the partners that either have not chosen yet to be members or may not each in the future choose to be members. Because that's all, again, part of this, the broader alliance framework, and the partnership framework. I think it's a great thing that the Turkish Grand National Assembly voted yesterday to ratify Finland's membership to NATO. And that does mean that all 30 NATO allies have now ratified Finland's succession protocol. And I'm hopeful that Finland will then formally join the alliance in the coming days. And I have to say in the coming days, because there's some, there's some administrative and bureaucratic things that have to happen with diplomatic business like the deposit of the ratification documentation and so on. But this is really exciting, because their finished membership does make Finland safer and NATO stronger. And I'd also say since you raised 49 of the alliance coming together, this is the fastest accession process in NATO's modern history. And this normally takes years. And if you think about it, it was just last year after the war started that Finland and Sweden changed longstanding national policies of neutrality. They had relationships with us, partnerships with us, but longstanding policies and neutrality, and decided to join the alliance. And I think it was the Finnish president Niinisto who actually made the statement that it was Putin that did this, it was Putin that provoked that seat change in their views. So, you mentioned the border. I'll just reiterate the statement I made earlier. Putin wanted less NATO. Dear him. The fact is he gets more NATO. And it also demonstrates, sends a very clear message to Putin that NATO's door remains open, and that nations can, in fact, go through that door, and join the alliance, that it is the alliance itself and the nations within it, the nations that wish to join it, that make the decision, as it is their rights under international law. It is not the right or authority of any other nation to determine for them what security arrangements they have for themselves, and what alliances they join. So, very proud to see Finland join the alliance, and, again, hopeful that I'll be equally proud to celebrate the Swedens joining the alliance very soon.
Andrew Hammond: And is there a question that you are never asked that you really think that you should have been asked? Because, you know, when I've done interviews before, there's always some blind spot that people don't get. So, it could be academics, generalist practitioners, do you ever have an interview, and you're just like, geez, I just wish they would ask this question, which is really important, and everybody needs to know, but nobody is going to ask it. If that is the case, this is an opportunity for me to ask it.
David Cattler: Well, I think, look, I mean, we've already talked about, you know, usually what I say here is I just want to take a moment to talk about how grateful I am to be able to serve here, and how proud I am to be an American serving here. Because it really has been quite a time this last three, three and a half years, to be here and see all of this, I'm sad my time comes to an end here later this fall. But certainly very, very proud of what I've seen here, the part I've been able to play, the pride I have in the team, the way the team has come together. I think, you know, I'd go back to the educational mission, you know, that I know you have both at the museum, you know, and what you're trying to do through the podcast. And I just, a question you kind of got to last time that you didn't ask this time is, you know, how did you get here, and, you know, what advice would you have, so I'd probably just say to people, you know, take advantage of the opportunities you have not just to serve within your national system, you know, if you're American, I mean, certainly the intelligence community is tremendous with lots of opportunity there. And I would encourage you to serve in some way the nation that I think the intelligence community is a great place to serve. And at the same time, really think about going out into the world and broadening your horizons, your personal and professional horizons by doing so. I mean, I'll be 52 in May. This is the first time I have lived overseas. I have worked, deployed, plenty of interactions with people around the world. But this is the first time in my whole life I have lived overseas. And I'm happy for the time I've had here, but I do regret that I didn't do it earlier. Because I just think it's been a huge opening of my mind, my way of thinking, my life experience. You know, as I said earlier, it makes me appreciate a whole lot more what it means to be an American in terms of who we are and what we stand for and what we mean and what we can do. It also makes me a whole lot more mindful of the privilege that I enjoy as an American. But it's also really helped me better understand a whole lot of people in a whole lot of different nations and places and ways of life. And I think in ways that are really important. Not just to me as a person, but even to the way that I approach my work, and the way I think about what's important. So, you didn't ask it, but I'd just say to people, I mean, really, really think about where you want to take your career. And if you have an opportunity to work overseas, live overseas, and work in an international format, do it. Do it frequently. And try to do it early.
Andrew Hammond: It's so funny that you bring that point up, because literally my final question was, if you had advice for someone in the U.S. I see who wanted to work in a multilateral environment, what would you say to them somewhere like NATO? But you've just answered it. And just as we close out, do you know what's happening for you next, David? Is that yet to be determined?
David Cattler: It's yet to be determined. I mean, I'm a career senior executive, career official within the Department of Defense, and within the intelligence community. So, I'm talking to government to return. I'm also at a point in my career where I have more than 30 years of service. So, I think what I'm supposed to say here is I'm keeping an open mind, and I'm open to all offers. But I do think I have still some time left to serve, and some opportunities there. So, I'm hopeful to come back to the government, but I'm also mindful that I've been privileged with a great number of roles over the course of my career. I've been senior and senior roles for a very long time. And it may be that this is where I've made my final mark. And if so, I'll move on to something in the private sector. But it's really put me in a place to be very reflective on, again, the privilege that all the service I've enjoyed has given me, all the things it's prepared me for. And while I don't know where I'm going to go, I'm excited about the future, and about returning.
Andrew Hammond: Well, I wish you the very best of luck. And stay in touch. It's been a pleasure to speak to you. Thanks for your service and for your expertise.
David Cattler: Yeah, thanks so much. I really appreciate it.
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Andrew Hammond: Thanks for listening to this episode of SpyCast. Please follow us on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Coming up on next week's show.
Unidentified Person: The hotel had always been involved with intelligence, because it was very discrete because of its location where we are off Victoria Street in Westminster, because we're off there, as I said, it's almost hiding in plain sight, if you'd like, where a lot of organizations and perhaps even so today who knows are using the hotel as, you know, as cover for something else.
Andrew Hammond: If you go to our page at thecyberwire.com/podcast/spycast, you can find links to further resources, detailed show notes, and field transcripts. If you have feedback, you can reach us by e-mail at spycast.spymuseum.org, or on Twitter at INTLSpyCast. I'm your host, Andrew Hammond. And my podcast content partner is Erin Dietrick. The rest of the team involved in the show is Mike Mincey, Memphis Vaughn III, Emily Coletta, Afua Anokwa, Elliott Pelzman, Tre Hester, and Jen Eiben. This show is brought to you from the home of the world's preeminent collection of intelligence in the espionage-related artifacts, the International Spy Museum.
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