“David Petraeus on Ukraine & Intelligence” – with the former CIA Director & 4* General
Andrew Hammond: Welcome to "SpyCast". Brought to you from the home of the world's preeminent collection of intelligence and espionage-related artifacts, the International Spy Museum. I'm your host, Dr. Andrew Hammond, the museum's historian and curator. Every week, we explore some aspect of a vast ecosystem that looms beneath the surface of everyday life. Coming up next on "SpyCast".
David Petraeus: The reality that Russia confronts, which is, at some point, a realization that this war is unsustainable, it's unwinnable, that the casualties, which are already many, many times in just the first year and a half or so.
Andrew Hammond: It's been a long and winding road, 17 years, back into the mist of podcast time called 2006. Our guest is David Petraeus, former CIA director, four-star general, and commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Episode 600 is also the first of a five-week "Spy Chiefs" special. Following on from General Petraeus will be Wilson Boinett, the former head of Kenyan intelligence, and the man credited with turning it around. Michael McElgunn, the current head of intelligence for Ireland's Garda Síochána. Vappala Balachandran, the former number two at India's foreign intelligence agency, the research and analysis wing. And Tish Long, the first female intelligence agency director in the United States, who served at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. This took months and months to bring together, and I don't believe a Kenyan intelligence chief or an Irish Garda intelligence chief have ever done a podcast before. So we are most pleased to bring their perspectives to the "SpyCast" audience. Intelligence, after all, is by and large an international game. In this episode we discuss General Petraeus's appraisal of the situation in Ukraine, the strategic goals of each side in the conflict, the role intelligence is playing in the Ukraine war, OSINT, and General Petraeus's time as director of the CIA. Thank you to all of our listeners, no matter where in the world you are, for all of your support these past 17 years. The original podcast on intelligence since 2006, we are "SpyCast". Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. Thanks so much for joining me, General Petraeus, to speak about Ukraine and intelligence. Just to start off, I was wondering, can you tell us any embarrassing or cool stories about our boss, Chris Costa?
David Petraeus: Not a thing. I have nothing but extraordinary memories of him. That's actually the truth. He's an exceptional special operator, exceptional leader, deep appreciation for intelligence, obviously, and the perfect individual to be heading the International Spy Museum.
Andrew Hammond: I was being playful, obviously. Okay, so I think it would be good to start off. Could you just tell us your strategic appraisal of what's going on in Ukraine? I'm thinking more the forest rather than what individual tree we are at the moment.
David Petraeus: Well, we're at the end of July. This is about seven weeks into the Ukrainian summer and what will likely be fall offensive. It's pretty clear to me that they're going to continue to push as long as they have decent weather and conditions and the forces capable of continuing the offensive, and they have a lot of new brigades that have not yet been introduced. In that seven weeks, the progress has been very difficult, very challenging. The Ukrainians have run into the miles-deep anti-tank and anti-personnel minefields that the Russians have impressively -- I mean, you have to give the Russians credit for establishing quite impressive layered defensive positions. So you'll have minefields again. There are tank ditches. There are dragon's teeth. There are trench lines with soldiers. There are forward observers overwatching the obstacles. There are drones that are positioned over them so they can use the enormous amount of artillery, still a largely artillery-based army, to hit, to strike, to suppress the Ukrainian forces as they're trying to pick their way through these minefields. And, of course, the Ukrainians just don't have one really important capability, and that is major armored breaching operational capability. They just don't have that capacity. They have individual dozers and plows on tanks and a few things like that, but they don't have the mass number of that, nor do they have the air power that we would bring to bear in advance of this kind of breaching operation. And I'm talking about armored bulldozers with ballistic glass. D-9s, they're called. We use them in the fight to Baghdad periodically. And you would literally plow your way through after having carpet bombed with as much ordnance as you can put on these minefields, because, of course, there are no civilians in these areas, and you're just trying to blow up every mine you possibly can. And then close air support right over the shoulders of the clearance forces as well as attack helicopters and drones to suppress the enemy so that as the forces are in that very vulnerable position where they're literally, again, picking their way through, breaching their way through these minefields, that the enemy is not able to strike them. And then and only then do you unleash the combined arms capabilities now available because of the provision of Western tanks, Western infantry fighting vehicles, artillery systems, a variety of the other combat support, and then even logistical capabilities that have been provided to them. They don't have that, and so they have adapted, I think, very impressively, noting that they have actually liberated more territory in the first seven weeks, well over 100 square miles, but that's not much in a 600-mile front, but over 100 square miles, which is more than the Russians took really since the first few months of the invasion when they did establish their control over parts of southeast and southern Ukraine. So they've achieved very modest gains. It has come at high cost. It has been very, very challenging for them, and they have adapted their strategy, and I think that's actually very important. I was just in Ukraine about two months ago, and it was clear to me that this is a military, this is a government, a country that is a learning organization. No plan survives contact with the enemy, so how do they adapt it? How do they adjust it? And what they're doing is now setting the conditions for the ultimate unleashing of their combined arms capability. And by that I mean that they are precisely targeting, with the longer-range systems that the U.K. and to a degree the United States have provided, very precisely taking out the Russian headquarters, their fuel storage sites, their ammo supply points, their reserve force assembly areas, logistical lines of communication where they can make them un-trafficable. The artillery units, again, this is, as I noted, an artillery-centric force. The Russians' always has been back to the Soviet Union, and so that's a key capability that has to be reduced. And then, of course, ultimately the soldiers in the trench lines, those who are literally defending these different belts of the Russian defenses. So once those conditions are achieved, and meanwhile, of course, painstakingly with sappers, with engineers, explosive ordnance disposal soldiers, and so forth, picking their way through, establishing lanes through these minefields so that once they get through them that they can then capitalize on it, exploit it, use these forces that have been provided with logistics right up behind them and with follow-on forces right up behind them as well, because you'll recall the very impressive offensive, counteroffensive in Kharkiv province last year, south of Kharkiv city, where the Ukrainians really unhinged the Russians. It was a very impressive, very rapid advance until it culminated. And physically soldiers can only go 72-ish hours before physically, again, you just run out of energy and adrenaline and everything else, and you need to push others through. They didn't have that in that offensive. They should have it in this offensive. And so that's what they're doing. The UK chief of defense staff, their senior military officer in the UK, I think described this in a very interesting way as starve, stretch, and strike. So the starve is, again, picking off these key elements of the Russian forces to deny them those elements when the time really arrives that they're very important. Then stretching, keeping the Russians stretched all along this 600-mile front line, which is an extraordinary distance. Keep in mind this is at least about 150 miles farther than the fight from Kuwait to Baghdad, which I was a division commander of the Great 101st Airborne Division during that fight. That seemed like an awfully long way, and the logistics for it, despite all of our capabilities, were really stretched several different times during the course of that rapid offensive. This is even a good bit farther. So they want to keep the Russians unable to concentrate when, in fact, the Ukrainians actually do attack. And they want the Russians to have to commit the limited reserve forces that they have, noting that the Russians are not rotating forces in and out of the line, and the Ukrainians are, which means that the Russian forces are just gradually being ground down. They do have individual replacements, but that's not how you develop a cohesive unit that has the kinds of trust and bonds that are in the brotherhood of the close flight of a unit that has trained together before it actually fights together. And the culture of these units is very different as well, with some exceptions. So that's where we are right now. I believe that the Ukrainians will, with this adaptation, over time, be able to painstakingly pick their way through this defense in various locations, liberate more of their territory. But I don't know when and if the Russians might crumble and collapse, either locally or more broadly, which is what probably is necessary for the Ukrainians to achieve their overall objective of this particular counteroffensive, which is to cut the Russian line of communication that runs from Russia proper along the southeast and southern coast of Ukraine to the forces that are just north of the Crimean Peninsula. I'm hopeful that they will be able to do that, but it probably hinges as much on whether the Russians just no longer can deal with this, whether the turmoil in their leadership structure, you know, with the Prigozhin attempted coup, with the killing reportedly with a storm shadow missile from the UK of the deputy commander of the forces in Ukraine, with the sidelining of Surovkin, who was really the mastermind of these defensive belts that have been established, the sacking of a combined arms army commander who was quite popular with his troops, Popov. All of this is part of the context that's playing out. And one thinks, one would think that at some point this might lead to the crumbling of these forces. There's a lot of anecdotal reporting about individual cases of Russian soldiers just getting frustrated, surrendering, shooting in all directions and this kind of thing. They've been in the lines almost continuously, those that have survived for over a year now. And they don't have the same kind of commitment, the same kind of sense that -- for the Ukrainians, this is their war of independence, and the entire country has mobilized to achieve that independence, to liberate their territory. And I don't see a similar cause to which the Russian soldiers might cling, especially with the Wagner Group now pulled out some 25,000 pretty capable forces, because of the whole episode involving Prigozhin and the efforts by the Ministry of Defense to clip his wings and force his soldiers to sign Ministry of Defense contracts or to go home, or to go to Belarus, apparently to help train Belarusian soldiers, whatever that effort is intended to achieve.
Andrew Hammond: So it's a total war for one side and a limited war for the other side, would that be fair to say?
David Petraeus: I think that's correct, with some limits again, because the Ukrainians clearly are not going to use the longer range precision systems that have been provided by the US and other NATO and Western countries on Russian soil, it does not appear. They have acknowledged using their own drones, indigenously produced drones. They have acknowledged supporting the Russian Legion, this Russian ethnic force that resides in eastern Ukraine and will attack into Russia periodically, Belgorod province and so forth. But it's not a case where Ukraine is, again, trying to take anything from Russia. What they're trying to do is liberate their own territory. And that includes certainly Crimea and that portion of southeastern Ukraine known as the Donbass, the portions of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces that were occupied, taken by the so-called separatists that were supported very heavily by the Russians back in 2014, when the little green men also took over Crimea.
Andrew Hammond: What would victory look like for each side? Would this be a military victory or would it be one side, for example, Russia -- I'm thinking of the Soviet-Afghan war. The political will is no longer there. There's increasing domestic opposition. I know there's lots of variables at play, but I know that you've also studied probably hundreds of wars from the past. So what's your take on what victory would look like?
David Petraeus: It's interesting you mention it because, as you may know, the great British historian Andrew Roberts and I actually just finished a book, which will come out in mid-October, titled Conflict: The Evolution of Warfare from 1945 to Ukraine. And so we did indeed look at the recent history in this regard. I think it's actually fairly clear, at least in terms of what the Ukrainians want to achieve, which is liberation of all of their country from the Russian forces. But it would go farther than that, I think. I think there has to be some kind of somewhat durable resolution at the end of all this. And then Ukrainian accession to NATO, continued NATO commitment to Ukraine, membership in the EU, or at least on the path to EU membership. And then a very substantial reconstruction program, the so-called Marshall-like reconstruction plan, except that it will be many times the present dollar value of what was provided back in the Marshall Plan, which is somewhere around $110-120 billion in today's currency. But it appears that the reconstruction in Ukraine may take as much as $600 or more billion, according to the latest estimates. And then there will have to be, again, some kind of understanding with Russia, which presumably would result from the reality that Russia confronts, which is at some point a realization that this war is unsustainable, it's unwinnable, that the casualties, which are already many, many times in just the first year and a half or so, what the Soviet forces took in nearly 10 years in Afghanistan, and the toll that's being taken on their economy and individuals through the economic, financial, and personal sanctions and export controls, which have already probably set back, together with individual actions of businesses that have withdrawn and said they won't return, has probably set back the Russian economy a decade at least. Now, they survived through the first year reasonably well because of the elevated price of crude oil, but they're not getting that price. They're now selling it for $10-20 less than the Brent crude price, and the price itself has gone down as markets have stabilized, as U.S. production has once again increased, the U.S. once again being the swing producers in a way that was not the reality of even 10 or 15 years ago. So all of these dynamics, I think, come to play. I don't know what success looks like for the Russians anymore. They failed to achieve their overriding objective, which was to take Kiev, topple the government, and replace President Zelensky with a pro-Russian figure. They lost the Battle of Kiev. In fact, they had to withdraw both axes that were attacking from the north and from the east. They lost the battles of Sumy and Chernihiv, two other northeastern cities, where they withdrew the Battle of Kharkiv City, then the Battle of Kharkiv Province, and they also had to withdraw their forces that were west of the Dnipro River, which essentially bisects at least eastern Ukraine from Kiev down to the south. And those forces that were west of that river literally had to be withdrawn under the pressure of a Ukrainian offensive that had done very expertly what we're seeing Ukraine now do, which is setting conditions. They made it increasingly difficult for headquarters to survive west of the Dnipro. They made it difficult for ammo and fuel storage sites to survive. They went after the barracks of reserve forces. They made the bridges un-trafficable and basically created conditions where the Russians could no longer sustain their forces, even though the Ukrainians, while pressuring them, had not completely defeated them on the battlefield. They just had to withdraw. And I think that the Ukrainians would like to play that move again, if you will, in some respects in this particular offensive, and then ultimately perhaps also in a much bigger scale when it comes to the Crimean Peninsula. But Andrew, let me point out a couple of other dynamics at play here, because one can conceive at least of resolutions of this war that might be short of what I have described as success for the Ukrainians. No one wants to talk about the possibility that Ukraine might not liberate all of its territory. But I think, again, that strategists, policymakers at least have to contemplate this kind of possibility, given the incentives for that of literally stopping the extraordinary damage of infrastructure, the latest of which has been targeted by the Russians, obviously being the port of Odessa, the grain and other facilities there, and then even the ability to export grain through the Danube. So, again, the damage night after night after night, even though Ukrainian air defenses around Kiev in particular are really quite impressive. In fact, when we were there, during the week we were there, the air defenses were nearly flawless in the face of the heaviest attacks of drone swarms with and crews and other missiles and rockets interspersed. But that's not the case throughout the country, and that is obviously a challenge. And, again, just the sheer bloodshed and so forth and loss for a country that's well under 40 million people now, compared with a country that is over 140 million in the case of Russia. So at least I think one has to, I guess, consider to contemplate, although no one certainly in a responsible position in Ukraine can publicly acknowledge or accept, or even, frankly, behind the scenes discuss that as a possibility. But I think you have to. And again, the incentives for Russia are to get out from underneath the sanctions to stop their bloodshed. You notice that they're having to mobilize again. They're raising the age of reserve call-ups and all the rest, all of which appears to be a degree of desperation, given that Putin does not want to order general mobilization. He doesn't want to declare that this is a war for fear that that would start to erode the support for the special operation, as he describes it in the Russian Federation right now.
Andrew Hammond: I'm really interested in your response to this next question, because as a former senior military commander, you obviously consumed intelligence, and then you were the CIA director. So I'm wondering what role do you see intelligence playing in this conflict? Is it playing a standard role? Is there something different going on, or is there anything novel?
David Petraeus: Well, there is something novel, but it's not, I don't think, the role that intelligence is playing. I think the role is what the role has always been of intelligence. It enables actions at the tactical level right on the front, perhaps even precision targeting of various enemy capabilities and forces and logistical elements, as I've explained. At the operational level, a broader understanding of what's going on in a particular front of the overall front. And then, of course, at the strategic level, where you're starting to get at the more difficult issues now, such as, you know, what is Putin's mindset? Does he really still think that the Russians can out-suffer the Ukrainians, the Europeans and the Americans, the way the Russians traditionally out-suffered, say, Napoleon's army, Hitler's Nazis and so forth? What is in his mind? What is going on in the Russian power structure? What are the dynamics there, especially when you look at these incredible situations where, you know, Prigozhin is a public enemy number one in the morning. By that evening, after he turned his forces around 200 miles from Moscow, he's been able to cut a deal. And then a few days after that, he and his commanders are meeting with Putin. And now it seems as if it's a little bit business as usual without the Prigozhin Wagner group forces on the battlefield in Ukraine. So, again, I think the role of intelligence is what it always is. And it's crucial. The difference here is the sources of intelligence, which have evolved enormously. And largely because of the massive quantities of open source information, and then also information that comes from a whole bunch of different digital sources, whether it's, again, smartphones, applications, digital apps, Internet of Things devices, you name it. But most particularly because of the ubiquitous presence of smartphones, Internet connectivity, even in a war zone, and then social media and websites onto which video, photos, data, narrative and so forth can be uploaded. And then the advent as well of data aggregation applications and the establishment of websites that do nothing but scour the Internet, the web for information and bring it together, do in a sense what the Open Source Center, for example, what the CIA has openly done for many years, which is to gather all of this, bring it together, aggregate it. In this case, not, of course, bringing in classified information, which is then the realm of the intelligence agencies. And one of the challenges that they have is how to bring that all together. But you look at, for example, a website, just one example, because there are many of these, but Oryx.com. You can go on to Oryx.com, which I think is based out of the Netherlands, but it uses input from literally everywhere. And it documents, de-conflicts, confirms the destruction, damage, retrieval, what have you, of, for example, all different Russian weapon systems, vehicles and so forth. And that is the source by which we can say with real confidence that the Russians have lost well over one half of the tank force that they started the war with. And that's why they're having to bring these older tanks out of mothballs and to use them. And again, it's all documented. They have literally, again, geo-located the photos, the confirmation, the data. They have de-conflicted it. And what they have confirmed is undoubtedly far less than what actually has been destroyed on the battlefield. And you have to have that awareness because they can't document everything out there. But these are really extraordinary advances. And again, the whole reason for this is this is the first war with smartphones, Internet connectivity and social media such as we see here. It was not present even really in the Iraq and Afghanistan war, certainly not to this scale. So that is a dramatic change. And again, the challenge for Intel professionals then is how to take this information, recognizing that occasionally there can be disinformation in here as well, especially from the Russian side, which is trying to influence debates and discussions and essentially conducting information warfare at the same time. And then to integrate that with traditional, if you will, in quotes, sources of intelligence, human intelligence, imagery intelligence, various forms of, again, signals intelligence, getting into other realms, cyber intelligence nowadays, and all the rest of this. There are numerous of these ints in which you employ classified systems and methods and sources. And again, taking that and fusing it with what is now available on such a much greater scale from open sources. So that's a really dramatic advance. It also gives a degree of transparency to this war that I don't think has ever existed before. There are, again, websites that are think tanks. I'm on the board of the Institute for the Study of War, for example, which has become the source on record, if you will, for every major media. You look down in the bottom left and the source of their maps is the Institute for the Study of War and the AEI Critical Threats Project. They've done spectacular work. And you can double click your way way down into it. They can lay down where all of the Russian forces are and so forth. And so, again, these are dramatic changes to the context within which intelligence work is being done and to the sources of intelligence that just never existed, certainly on this scale in the past.
Andrew Hammond: In this short interlude, I want to say a big thank you to the "SpyCast" community. With your help, we managed to get on the shortlist of the People's Choice Podcast Awards in the history category. To get to the final 10 after 8.2 million votes there or thereabouts is incredibly humbling. Thank you for everything, friends. The other thing I was wondering was, you know, you see these arguments now that there's some connection between Russian foreign policy adventurism and its near abroad and Ukraine and America's post 9-11 experience and Afghanistan and Iraq. The United States took its eye off the main strategic picture and ended up in these wars on terror. And you know all the arguments. So I'm just wondering what's your take on this link between what Russia is doing in Ukraine now and Iraq and Afghanistan, because you served in both of those theaters?
David Petraeus: I'm not sure that it is that we took our eye off Russia. You can argue that this delayed the rebalance to Asia and a greater prioritization of the need to shore up, solidify the elements of deterrence in the Indo-Pacific. And indeed, that some of the actions during this period, whether it was the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, which President Xi said, see, you can't depend on the Americans, whether that undermined deterrence, the red line in Syria that was not a red line that undermined -- I remember a prime minister in a very important Southeast Asian country telling me not long after that, that, you know, this has implications. This reverberates out here. It undermines deterrence. And so I think it's more in that regard. I think, in fact, that Putin may have said, well, you know, they didn't do too much to me after the 2014 seizure of Crimea and support for the separatists in the Donbass. They just withdrew from Afghanistan. By the way, the way that withdrawal was conducted was clearly not particularly optimal. It was rather chaotic. They've got their hands full around the world. They didn't respond the way they said they would. When islands were built in the South China Sea, then when they were militarized, cyber thefts went on and so forth. So, you know, they're probably not going to have the stomach to do anything if I invade my neighbor, which, after all, doesn't really have a right to exist in his grievance filled, revanchist and revisionist history involving Ukraine. So I think it's more in that regard. Certainly, we deployed substantial forces, committed enormous resources, financial resources as well. But I don't know that I would attribute -- that involvement I wouldn't attribute necessarily to something involving Russia, other than that perhaps some of the actions, when they showed a lack of commitment and strategic patience, may have influenced Putin's assessment of how we might respond together with our NATO allies. And the irony, of course, is that in setting out to make Russia great again, Putin has actually made NATO great again. Putin's been the greatest gift to NATO since the end of the Cold War. His invasion, this brutal, unprovoked invasion, prompted two historically neutral countries, Finland and Sweden, to seek accession to NATO. Finland's already in. Sweden presumably will be once the Turkish president sends this to his parliament. And you see a seriousness about defense, the so-called Seitenwende in Germany, where it has transformed the situation in Europe. It has created a degree of unity in NATO that I've not seen since I was a speechwriter for the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe in the mid-1980s, just a few years before the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the wall. So I think it's a complicated situation. One can certainly debate a considerable amount of time, in particular the decision to invade Iraq and certainly revisit some of the mistakes that we made, particularly early on, firing the military without telling them what their future was instead of using them, and then firing the Ba'ath Party down to quite a level of bureaucrat, which we actually needed to run the country without an agreed reconciliation process. That was the real shortcoming. And then running it with a pickup team, the coalition provisional authority that had a rotation of about every three months for the folks below the top. So it's complicated, as always. There are those in Russia, Foreign Minister Lavrov in particular -- I've heard him personally do this, and various leaders in the South, if you will, the global South, who will say, well, look at what you did in Ukraine. How is that different? So it's the whataboutism. What about what you did? You object to Putin doing this. I think the situations were very different. I think you can argue that. But nonetheless, it gives some degree of opportunity for those to use that. But, Andrew, I want to revisit a question that I want to make sure you do ask, or I will answer it.
Andrew Hammond: Sure.
David Petraeus: Which has to do with -- you were going to ask, are we seeing novel intelligence developments in this war technologically, operationally, et cetera? I think the answer to that is very much yes. I talked about the use of open source intelligence and how dramatically different the availability of this is. But there's more. There is the proliferation of drones. Now, these are not the most capable drones at all. But they are becoming increasingly capable. By the way, many of them now increasingly being indigenously produced in Ukraine, where we forget a lot of the military industrial complex of the Soviet Union was in that country or in that republic at that time and is being revived now. And you see also tremendous mechanical capacity and IT capacity on the part of the Ukrainians. They are very good at using cyber intelligence, various technical capabilities to gather intelligence from the myriad devices on the battlefield that the Russians forget they even have, such as, again, their cell phones and sometimes stolen cell phones from Ukrainians. And the Ukrainian citizen does find my iPhone, and they've just targeted the commander. Or, again, these athletic applications that you have, and it shows your location. We had an issue with that in northeastern Syria, as you may recall, with some of our forces that were there. So I think that there are significant advances here. But all this does is give a hint as to the future of warfare and the future of intelligence capabilities. These are not the future of warfare. The future of warfare is a world in which we finally see the operationalization of the old adage from the Cold War days, which held that what can be seen can be hit, what can be hit can be killed. The truth is, though, and I was a major of brigade operations officer in Germany in the final years of the Cold War, we couldn't see that well. And even if we could see something, you know, we didn't have drones. We didn't have all this low earth orbit. We didn't have anywhere near what we have nowadays. But beyond that, even if we could see it, we weren't very good at hitting moving targets. Dynamic targeting was difficult. The sensor to shooter linkage was cumbersome, et cetera. And therefore, you couldn't kill all that much in depth, even though that was our doctrine was to fight in greater depth early in the battle. Nowadays, however, if you think about an Indo-Pacific conflict, you can see everything. You can kill everything in many cases with precise hypersonic systems, increasingly, the defense against which is very difficult. And therefore, you can sink or shoot down or kill a lot of things as well. We don't see that in Ukraine, but you see hints of that. You see glimpses of that. And with each additional weapon system that we provide, and I hope we will provide the army tactical missile system -- hopefully, by the time this is aired, that decision will have been made by the U.S., and accelerate the advent of F-16s in the Ukrainian Air Force with munitions that we provide that have standoff capacity and so forth. These are, again, hints of the future, but they are not the future. But they give you a sense of what the future might consist of, especially when you think about unmanned systems that are either remotely piloted or actually, in many cases now, algorithmically piloted, even in Ukraine. And that would be much more ubiquitous in a battlefield of the future. And it won't just be in the air or on the ground. It will be on the surface of the sea. It will be subsurface. It will be in outer space. It will be in cyberspace. And the question is, will these systems, again, be remotely piloted by a human? Or will the human in the loop have been the individual who crafted the algorithm and the conditions that the machine has to verify, has to meet, before it takes a certain action, whether that is non-kinetic or kinetic?
Andrew Hammond: And one of the things that I wanted to ask as well was, you know, I feel like you're really well-placed to answer this question. What should the triad look like between diplomacy, intelligence, and the military? So I'm just thinking of Afghanistan, of Iraq, and also of Ukraine. So, you know, in the cycle of war and peace, the military, they can't do all of that on their own. There's other components that come into play. So I just wondered, do you think that the current arrangement of that triad is sufficient, or would you change it? I'm also just thinking about, you know, this idea of making peace stick. People talk about, you know, winning the peace. So I'm just wondering, can you just reflect on that triad, diplomacy, intelligence, and the military?
David Petraeus: We have to recognize that we have under-resourced various diplomatic capabilities. I'm not just talking about the State Department. I'm talking about various other attendant elements of that, including development assistance, including various forms of diplomacy and capabilities, whether it's, you know, the analog of Radio Free Europe or whatever it may be, that we have allowed some of these to atrophy in the wake of the Cold War. And that the State Department and diplomats have often been, again, not funded at the level that they -- I used to actually testify, in fact, in uniform at the request of the Secretary of State before one of the subcommittees on Capitol Hill that we needed to support our diplomats more than we were. And, you know, Jim Mattis, I think at the time, I think he was the Secretary of Defense, said correctly, if you don't give me diplomats, you're going to have to give me more ammunition. So, again, they should all obviously work together. Everything has to function together. Another, I think, often fallacy is that there is this ritualistic expression there is no military solution to this conflict. Well, first of all, often the enemy doesn't agree with that. You know, this was said about Syria. It was said about Afghanistan. It was said perhaps at times in Iraq. The truth is the military sets the conditions in which you can actually resolve the conflict. That's certainly the case in Ukraine. Again, the military, the Ukrainian military, has to achieve further gains. It has to change the dynamics, not just on the battlefield, but also, frankly, globally in terms of the support, the continued support for Ukraine, a sense that Ukraine can progress, can, quote, win, and therefore a realization in Moscow that this is unsustainable. So, again, the military component is crucial. And then, of course, the element that is always the foundation for everything being done by the military and also by the diplomats and the policymakers is the intelligence component. Here we have extraordinary capabilities, but we are obviously having to completely overhaul how it is that we conduct intelligence operations in a world of ubiquitous cameras, iris scanning devices, facial recognition. Again, the increase of the surveillance state is not just in countries that we refer to as denied spaces. It's in other countries as well, where you can't go through customs without, again, having some identifiable features. You can't do what used to be done in old tradecraft. And so the new intelligence tradecraft has to be really overhauled. And the current director clearly recognizes this. He has, I think, embarked very aggressively on determining how we need to change our tradecraft capabilities and procedures, tactics, techniques, and procedures, if you will. And Director Burns also, of course, created the new China Center and took a number of other steps that I think have been very, very sound. So, again, all of this has to work together. It all has to be adequately resourced. The military generally has been -- generally, again, we'd always like to see less intrusion on the military budget by special interests and the vested interests on Capitol Hill that require the services to continue to buy capabilities that they don't need more of, or prolong the life of a certain capability beyond, you know, all of this kind of stuff. We can be much more efficient. We can reduce infrastructure and so forth and achieve a lot of efficiency. But at the end of the day, the amount is just staggering. But that's not the case for the diplomatic component and its related development component, not just in AID but also the International Development Finance Corporation. And then also in related informational capabilities that dramatically were reduced in the wake of the Cold War and really need to be revived and provided additional resources. Some of this exists without question. Voice of America in various places. But it's a shadow of what it used to be. So, again, all of these have to come together because it is true there's no ultimate military solution maybe. But there certainly has to be a military component to changing the dynamics so that there can actually be a diplomatic solution or what have you. By the way, I would also add the economic component in here, trade, sanctions, other financial and personal actions and so on. And again, I highlighted the informational as it relates to diplomatic, but it could even be broken out as its own component. In fact, you'll be familiar with the acronym DIME, which, again, has to do with diplomacy, information, military and economic.
Andrew Hammond: I mean, just when you were talking there about no military solution, I was thinking about I know you have a huge amount of appreciation for U.S. Grant and there's no path to victory except through Shiloh and Chattanooga and the wilderness and that whole campaign. That war wasn't going to be ended until Robert E. Lee's army was defeated, right?
David Petraeus: Well, the interesting thing about Grant is that he was first and foremost, I think, I would argue the only U.S. American general in history to be brilliant on the battlefield at the tactical, operational and strategic levels. The tactical was the battles in the land between the lakes. Operational, the most significant was Vicksburg, one of the greatest maneuvers and greatest, most risky battles of all time. And then, of course, he develops a strategy when he's put in charge of all Union forces for the first time that encompasses all forces in the east and the west. And he identifies the main effort and he sits in the pocket of Meade who goes at Lee. He says, you go where Lee goes, and he's right there to make sure that that happens. And in the meantime, he recognizes, I think, that the critical event of the Civil War was actually November 1864 and the re-election of Lincoln, and his strategy enabled the re-election of Lincoln. It decided that vote, the victories by Sherman in Atlanta and then going to the sea and then sealed ultimately by Sheridan taking the Shenandoah Valley, propelled Lincoln to a victory that just six months prior was not at all certain. And, of course, his opponent, the twice failed commander of Union forces or the Army of the Potomac, at least, McClellan, would have sued for peace and we would not have the republic that we have today. So, in many respects, Grant really was, as one great book on him assesses, the man who saved the Union. He just understood all of this brilliantly. He had a feel for the tactical situation, the operational situation, and indeed the grand strategic situation that is quite unique in our American military history.
Andrew Hammond: In this podcast, you can hear the admiration in General Petraeus's voice when he discusses General Ulysses S. Grant. I have heard him recount a story about Grant elsewhere, about the two-day Battle of Shiloh, where more Americans were killed than in all of the war since independence combined. On April 6, 1862, the Confederate Army surprised the Union Army in southwestern Tennessee, almost overwhelming and defeating them. David Petraeus describes it, borrowing from the historian Bruce Catton. It's one of those rainy nights, Grant sitting out in the open, just waiting for the sun to come up. We've all experienced this in the field, had a very tough day on the battlefield. Almost pushed back into the Tennessee River, he's literally on the bank of the river. Every available area with cover has been used as a makeshift hospital. You can hear the screams of those who are having limbs amputated. There's still people out on the battlefield who haven't been recovered and who are calling out. He's got a slouch hat on, a wet cigar in his mouth, rain's dripping off his hat. Sherman, his trusty lieutenant, comes out of the dark and says, "Well, Grant, we had the devil's own day today, didn't we?" Grant says, "Yep, lick him tomorrow though." That kind of determination is inspirational, Petraeus closed. I would strongly recommend reading Grant's memoirs. And if you're really hardcore, rent a car and follow his battles through the Western theater of the American Civil War as you read the book. And just coming off of that theme, I would be interested in your views on this question. You know, I spoke to CIA officers in the past who have spent their whole career in there. And they said, you know, by the time I got to the end of my career, I maybe had three weeks of leadership training. You're kind of thrown into it and you learn on the job. And he was saying, you know, if you compare that to the military, by the same time someone's done the same length of time, they may have spent three years or more. And, you know, courses, education, staff, college and so forth. So the question is, do you think it would be a good idea to have a staff college for the intelligence community, the non-military component of the intelligence community, or something analogous?
David Petraeus: Well, what I think the agency in particular -- because keep in mind, almost all the other elements of the intelligence community are composed by and large of military elements. It's all the service intelligence, not all of them, but most of them. Even NSA has a lot of civilians, but again, a large number of military, cyber command is military. So you look at all these, they actually tend to benefit from the various service professional military education system events. And you're right. You have a, you know, I don't know, eight-, 12-week basic course. First, you get commissioned. It's just take a commissioned officer, but it's the same for non-commissioned. You have your entry courses. Then you have a few years later, the advanced course. Now that's a bit longer, not quite probably four months, five months, depending on the branch. Eventually a staff college, which is a full academic year when you're a major. Then if you're fortunate and you've done well, you go to a war college. That's a full academic year. Even after you're promoted to general officer, there's a capstone course and a variety of other required courses. So there's a very well-established professional military education system. And it has an authorization in terms of personnel for how many can actually be in professional military education at a given time. I forget, in the Army it's many, many tens of thousands. I think it's a little below 100,000 back in my day when the Army was a bit larger. But that's a staggering number of individuals who are, again, in these various schools and centers and courses. And I haven't mentioned, of course, Airborne School, Ranger School, Air Assault School, all these other toolbox courses as well. The CIA has a superb onboarding. And again, this is really about the CIA. And for what it's worth, I laid this out. I was the first witness in the first hearing of the still somewhat new House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. And among the recommendations that I made to them was that there be an examination of what the military does to develop its people, its leaders in particular, its commissioned and non-commissioned officer leaders, especially. And then contrast that with the CIA, which has superb onboarding in the initial entry and all of that activity, but then struggles because it just doesn't have the numbers and it doesn't have an authorization that a certain number can be in school at any given time. It doesn't have the established professional military education analog for CIA officers. So it's really a CIA issue. And given the CIA, in my view, is the crown jewel, certainly others very, very important NSA, Cybercom, NGA and so forth. But again, many of those have at least a portion, if not all of their particular personnel, who are allowed to go and in fact required to go if they're in the leadership ranks, to these different courses in the military. So there's no question that there should be greater investment in the CIA's future leaders and then actual leaders. You know, the truth is that the agency has often struggled even to get people all the way through language courses, because what happens is half or two-thirds of the way through, there's a crisis somewhere in the world. And oh, gosh, you know, where are the people? Well, let's pull him or her out of language school and send them to this particular crisis situation. So there's no question that there should be greater investment in that regard in a workforce that I believe is the best in government, which is why being the director of that great organization is so incomparable, frankly, and so extraordinary and such a privilege. And I made that case. And in fact, interestingly, on the Intelligence Committee in the House, I think there were six or more members who had actually served in the military. There was only one who had served in the CIA. And I made the point particularly to her that she should -- you know, I said, I hope that you would give this portfolio to her, because she understands what I'm talking about. And I suspect that she could come up with a solid recommendation on how the Congress could authorize and appropriate for this kind of needed investment. It's very, very important. And I'm glad you asked that question.
Andrew Hammond: And on, you know, going from a lifetime in the military, what was the most dramatic difference you observed between military culture and CIA culture?
David Petraeus: Well, first of all, I think you have to recognize that while there is an overarching CIA culture of incredible selfless service, truly quiet professionals, you know, they can't go home and tell their neighbors or even their spouse and family members the details of what it is they do. And so therefore, there's a degree of, again, this really is selfless. You know, there's no big retirement parades for you. A lot of this recognition is behind the fence, behind closed doors. You can't celebrate it with all of your friends and family and all the rest of that all the time. And they embrace this. And of course, the hardship tours, the risks and so forth that certain components of the agency in particular. But then I think you have to recognize that there's this almost academic, cerebral, intellectual component. That's the analysts. And by the way, it was wonderful for me because, you know, I did actually do a Ph.D. in international relations and economics at Princeton. And I actually taught those subjects and then did a fellowship at Georgetown by that time. And to engage with them was great fun. Not only that, I'd had enormous experience, you know, I'd had far more meetings with Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq than all the analysts put together. And same with Karzai, same with a number of others, certainly in the greater Middle East. For at that time, you know, we were proud that there were roughly 80 or 90 percent of the world's problems were in the greater Central Command area. So there's that component. There's obviously the National Clandestine Service, the human intelligence collection operations officers, and then a subset, which, of course, is well known as the special activities and so forth. That's very different, that's almost more akin to what it was that I was doing in a certain respect. And I'd worked with many of them. The decade prior to becoming the director, I'd spent well over seven years deployed, first a year in Bosnia, four years in Iraq, a year in Afghanistan, and then Central Command, where I was going all the time in the greater Middle East, as well as in, of course, Washington. And so you work very, very closely. And in fact, the director of the CIA and I, as the Central Command commander, would co-host an annual -- not an annual, a semi-annual counterterrorism gathering that we would take turns hosting at various locations in the region, in Tampa or in various CIA locations. So there was a feeling of kinship. A number of them actually also, of course, had military experience. But then you have the technology folks. They're incredibly gifted. And again, there's a combination of just sheer brains, engineering and other expertise that is unique. They're very special. Then you have increasingly the IT side, if you will, the big data, this whole emerging area that has become more important. And during my time, we made the head of that the fifth big D. You always had traditionally operations, intelligence/analysts, support and technology, and then even the support, which had the most exquisite capabilities. But you had to, I think, you had to appreciate each one of these. And you had to, in a sense, you had to lead them with a slightly different style. Again, noting that one valued enormously the intellectual exchange, others might value more operationally focused activities, et cetera, et cetera. And so it really is, again, I think the greatest workforce in the U.S. government.
Andrew Hammond: And when you became the director, I'm interested, you know, as a senior military officer, you know, four star general, you'd obviously seen a lot, were exposed to a lot of intelligence, a lot of operations. But because of the need to compartmentalization and so forth, you know, you don't know everything. But when you went to become the director of the CIA, was there anything that you were like, wow, this is -- obviously, I don't expect you to talk about it, but is there anything that you were like, wow, this is, you know, kind of unbelievable, or I had no idea this was going on?
David Petraeus: At least once, maybe multiple times a week, someone would come in and say, hey, director, we need to -- you know, I was a consumer of intelligence in the different war zones. I actually came to know who the sources are and what the methods and the capabilities, technical capabilities were. But now you're talking about the entire world. You're talking about unbelievable sources and methods and technical capabilities that in some cases really, you know, you really would respond by saying, you have got to be kidding me. Really? And yeah, no, I mean, again, that was probably multiple times a week. But again, these are incredibly sensitive. They've actually been kept secret and so forth and so on. So, yes, there's no question that there still are unbelievable capabilities, sources, methods, technical assets and so forth that are not known even to those who are commanding two different wars at the heights of those efforts.
Andrew Hammond: And final question, the CIA historian David Robarge, he's got this typology of directors of central intelligence or CIA directors, and it stops before you become the director. And, you know, he's got administrator/custodian. So that's someone that's tweaking it like George Tenet. He's got an intelligence operator. So people like Helms and Casey, then he's got manager reformers or insiders like Colby, a manager/reformer, or outsiders like Turner, a manager/reformer. And he's got five restorers, people like George H.W. Bush and Webster. And I just wonder, you know, which one of them would you see yourself? You know, what was your vision for the CIA when you came in that you would have implemented if you had stayed there? So in this article, David Robarge is talking about how someone like Helms, he didn't want to reform it. He just wanted to do what they do, whereas other people came in and they wanted to change it. And other people didn't really do much, but they were just there to be a salve on a traumatic time for the agency. So, yeah, I was just wondering what your vision was and where in that typology you would see yourself falling.
David Petraeus: What we sought to do during my time was, first and foremost, to develop a true strategic plan for the organization, which didn't exist. The organization had had some incredible successes, including while I was still the commander in Afghanistan, of course, the operation that brought Osama bin Laden to justice, an incredible intelligence success, an incredible success for our Special Mission Unit, Navy Special Mission Units as it's publicly known. So, again, there have been a number of achievements. But what we needed to do was sit down and answer some very fundamental questions. And I've done this before at the heights of, you know, the surge in Iraq, where the surge that mattered most wasn't the additional forces. They were important, crucially important. It was the surge of ideas. It was the change of strategy, the change of, again, 180 degrees. Change management doesn't get any more substantial than that. And what the agency needed to do was answer very fundamental questions about what are the emerging missions of the agency. Of course, one of those was very apparent. It had to do, again, with big data, big data analytics, with open source that I've described some of that here, challenges to tradecraft, et cetera, et cetera. So what are the new missions that we need to focus additional resources on? And then what are the existing missions that we need to continue? And then also, of course, where can we reduce the resourcing? Where can we reduce the focus as we are adjusting to changes globally, changes in technology and a whole variety of other changes in the context in which intelligence is gathered and analyzed and processed and distilled and presented and refined and so forth. And we set up, in fact, I remember we set up a collaborative site, and I think there were nearly a thousand submissions over the first weekend, actually. As I opened it up to everybody, I felt that as you develop big ideas, they should be open, transparent, iterative, and so forth. Ultimately, you have to make decisions on that. And so that was a big thrust was to set us on that path. Because when I came in, frankly, I asked for the strategic concept, and I was given a trifold that fits in your suit pocket that laid out how we were reprogramming, I don't know what it was, $600 or $800 million from certain missions to other missions. Now, that's a start that recognized, again, some of the changes that were crystallized during the process of this particular effort. And then created a chief learning officer to promote more of this kind of activity, but also to establish a bit more institutional structure. One of the unique elements of the agency is that there is no overarching headquarters for what the organization does. It's not like a four-star headquarters where you have your own, at that level, you have this very robust headquarters. And then the elements below you, they have all their headquarters. And in this case, it would be Intel Analysis, again, support the big data, IT, cyber, and so forth and then, of course, the technology. You largely run the organization through what the deputy director for operations tends to do with what were then the divisions into which the world was divided. And that's where the big muscle is. And then everyone else piles on and helps in those efforts. Now, this is a great oversimplification, but there was no chief strategy officer. There was no operation above at that level. And so we needed structure. We couldn't tell, for example, at that time -- we had to do an audit of where all the national clandestine services officers were in the world because there had been so many swaps and deals. And it showed that there were, hypothetically speaking, say 50 or 100 in Paris. It wasn't. And it turns out, well, they really weren't there. They were in all the war zones. But let's find out where everyone is. Let's account for them. And then we realized that we were well under the authorization. This is the coin of the realm. The unique capacity the CIA has is human intelligence, recruiting sources, stealing secrets. And again, we weren't at the strength that we were authorized to be, much less flirting with going over it. And we couldn't project what the result was going to be a few weeks or a few months from then either, even though you have a very defined pipeline and you generally know who's going to retire a number of months, if not longer in advance. And so it was an awful lot about, again, creating the kinds of systems that I was very familiar with in the past without certainly ever stifling the extraordinary capacity of the organization to respond very, very quickly. I'll give you a quick example of that without being overly specific. There was a particular situation ongoing when I took over as the director. I'd already been looking. I'd already been out at the agency for many weeks, but hadn't yet been sworn in, but in preparation and before retiring. And it was apparent to me that there was a certain capability that was required in that particular contingency that was not sufficient, I thought, to what was going to transpire. And I remember sitting down the very first day with the big Ds, and I said, DO, could you look at this? My sense is that we don't have enough of this type of capability there. And can you come back with some options for me tomorrow? And so we come in the next morning and I said, well, DO, how are you coming on the options? He said, oh, director, you were right, actually. And we put a few people on the plane last night. In fact, they should be landing around now. I mean, and I come from the military where to get additional forces or additional capabilities, you had to submit -- as a battlefield commander, four-star commander of the main effort of the military, you had to submit a request for forces. It would go through central command, through the chairman, to the secretary of defense. Services would argue about it. If the SECDEF approved it, then there was a sourcing conference or solution. Then the deployment orders would go out. Then they'd have to do pre-deployment training if not already ready for that. And then and only then do you actually receive the capabilities. Now, the capabilities that you would receive were industrial strength. And the agency is obviously much more exquisite. It's much smaller, but incredibly capable. So the difference was quite striking. You don't want to at all stifle that. That's really one of the differentiators of the organization. But you do need structure. You do need to know, again, how many NCS officers are we going to have six months from now? Are we making progress? We actually were not. When we finally nailed it all down and did an audit and did scrub the pipeline and looked at who was retiring, we realized that we needed to open up the hiring pipeline quite considerably. That's just one example. There's others that have to do with resources and a variety of others. And we're just talking, you know, monthly metrics, the kinds of standard things. And it just was not part of the culture of the organization in the past. And I think it was a useful addition together with, again, doing this within this overarching effort to develop the true strategic plan for this incredible organization based on the new realities, what we could see in the future and how we were going to resource those and so forth. By the way, I did try to create more of the professional military education analog. But again, the resources just were not there, the authorization and appropriations. And that's why I highlighted that again with the hearing for which I was the first witness this year.
Andrew Hammond: And I have another example that someone told me, and you can tell me if this story is apocryphal or not. But as a former CIA officer who said to me over beers that he was in Iraq in a helicopter that you were also in, and you were talking about something you needed, but that it would cost $50,000. And the CIA officer said, well, like that's $50,000 and sort of, you know, shoot a bag over your way. And your response was, I effing love this organization. Do I need to choose better friends or is that broadly true?
David Petraeus: There's an element to this that's apocryphal because it actually took place all the way back in Bosnia in 2001.
Andrew Hammond: Oh, okay.
David Petraeus: And without getting into too many details, I was working very closely. I had two hats there. It's publicly known that we had a war criminal hunt going on. I was the U.S. only clandestine joint task force. I was the deputy commander of that as a U.S. officer. U.S. only. But I was also the NATO chief of operations for the NATO Stabilization Force. That was my day job. And the other one was my night job. And we used that war criminal hunt, which, again, the agency was very carefully involved, closely involved in that, as was the FBI and others, because this was often used to generate not just intelligence, but legal documents and so forth. In fact, there was an individual put behind bars in the United States, the president of Benevolence International Foundation, based on what it was we found in an operation in Bosnia. But that organization is, again, publicly known that we actually conducted counterterrorism operations after 9-11. We had an issue where we had a number of individuals that what we needed to do is send them back to their home country. You know, in the bureaucracy -- actually, I think I needed about $25,000. And I went to the chief and I said, hey, chief, you know, I could submit this thing, but I don't know how long it's going to take and would really like to get these guys back to their home country. That's the right resolution for this, because there was a pipeline from a certain country in the greater Middle East through Bosnia and into the Schengen zone. And there were certain organizations in Bosnia facilitating that. And he said, how much do you need? And I said, well, I think about $25,000. And he turned around, literally grabbed it out of the safe, counted it out, gave it to me and said, oh, could you sign a little buck slip, just so I remember that I gave this to you? And I thought, wow, this is an organization I'd like to be part of someday. So that was all the way back when I was a brigadier general. And then there were many, many episodes after that working with phenomenal chiefs of station in the war zones in different capacities that reinforced that sense of how special the agency is, how special the individuals are who comprise its workforce and how special the missions are. And so, again, that's why when Secretary Gates came out one time about midway through Afghanistan and we were talking about what I might do in the future, I said, how about your old job? And he said, that is intriguing. And that led to the nomination and so forth.
Andrew Hammond: Well, thanks ever so much for your time. I've really enjoyed speaking to you, General Petraeus. Thanks for helping the Spy Museum with our educational mission of informing the public about intelligence and espionage. I really appreciate that.
David Petraeus: Great privilege, Andrew. Thank you very much.
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. If you have feedback, you can reach us by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @intlspycast. If you go to our page at thecyberwire.com/podcasts /spycast, you can find links to further resources, detailed show notes and full transcripts.
Wilson Boinett: The history of Kenya's intelligence is really to look at the history of the British colonial power in Kenya and then beyond the British after independence up to the point at which I was appointed in 1995.
Andrew Hammond: I'm your host, Andrew Hammond, and my podcast content partner is Aaron Dietrich. The rest of the team involved in the show is Mike Mincey, Memphis Vaughn III, Emily Coletta, Emily Renz, Afua Anokwa, Elliott Pelzman, Tre Hester and Jen Eiben.