SpyCast 7.25.23
Ep 595 | 7.25.23

"Intelligence, Special Operations, and Strategy" – with Michael Vickers

Show Notes


Michael Vickers (Website) joins Andrew (TwitterLinkedIn) to discuss his remarkable career and memoir. He was formerly the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence. 

What You’ll Learn


  1. His specialized training to wear a “Nuclear Backpack” (yes, literally!)
  2. Overseeing a multibillion-dollar CIA covert action program against the Soviets
  3. Planning the Osama Bin Laden raid
  4. Retooling defense intelligence for the 21st century


  1. Finding a narrative that unites the various chapters of your life 
  2. Serving a country vs. serving a political party 

And much, much more …

Episode Notes

Michael Vickers has been on a heck of a ride. He started out as a U.S. Army private with no degree and went on to oversee hundreds of thousands of people as the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence while holding an MBA from the Wharton School and a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins. Along the way he was commissioned as an officer in the Green Berets, joined the CIA, oversaw the longest and largest covert action program in CIA history, and then went on to hold senior leadership positions across the Intelligence Community (IC). 

Michael is the author of By All Means Available: Memoirs of a Life in Intelligence, Special Operation & Strategy. His personal story has been intertwined with that of U.S. foreign policy for half a century – in this interview, Michael reflects on both


Michael is portrayed as the CIA “whiz kid” in the movie Charlie Wilson’s War, starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. Charlie Wilson was a Democratic congressperson from East Texas who played a key role in the CIA covert action program in Afghanistan in the 1980s. How? He was on the committee that funded it. He kept giving the program more money than the CIA asked for. I believe that’s called “the power of the purse.”

Quotes of the Week

"That weapon was called the Special Atomic Demolition Munition [i.e., “Nuclear Backpack] ...it was a sporty, uh, you know, it seemed like a good idea when I was 23 years old. So, there you have it." – Michael Vickers.




*Beginner Resources*



  • Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy, Mark Lowenthal (CQ Press, 2022)
  • Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan, 1979-1989, Roderic Braithwaite (Profile, 2012) 
  • The Great Gamble: The Soviet War in Afghanistan, Gregory Gamble (Harper, 2010)
  • The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright (Knopf, 2007)
  • Ghost Wars, Steve Coll (Penguin, 2004)



Primary Sources 

*Wildcard Resource*