SpyCast 2.20.24
Ep 621 | 2.20.24

A CIA Psychologist on the Minds of World Leaders, Pt. 1 with Dr. Ursula Wilder


Andrew Hammond: Welcome to "SpyCast", the official podcast of the International Spy Museum. I'm your host, Dr. Andrew Hammond, the museum's historian and curator. Each week we explore some aspect of the past, present or future of intelligence and espionage. Please subscribe to the show if you haven't already, and consider leaving us a five-star review so other listeners can find us. If you want to dig deeper into the content of the episode, you can find links to further readings, related podcasts and full transcripts at thecyberwire.com /podcast/spycast. Coming up next on "SpyCast".

Ursula Wilder: When they catch the spy from the Trojan side coming to spy on them, they ask him a series of very keen intelligence questions, including the morale factor. It was there from the very beginning. [ Music ]

Andrew Hammond: This week's guest is Dr. Ursula M. Wilder. She is a clinical psychologist who has served at the Central Intelligence Agency for over 25 years in the medical, operational and analytic functions. She is the first woman psychologist promoted to the Senior Intelligence Service at CIA and was awarded the George H. W. Bush Award for Excellence in Counterterrorism and the Sherman Kent Award for her contributions to the academic literature and scholarship on psychology and intelligence. In this week's episode, you'll learn how psychology can be useful to national security, historical examples of leadership psychology, leadership personality assessments and the Cuban Missile Crisis and psychoanalytic theory and espionage. The original podcast on intelligence since 2006, we are "SpyCast". Now, sit back, relax and enjoy the show. Well, I'm so pleased to speak to you today, Ursula, I've been trying to make this happen for a while, but I'm really glad that we finally got around to doing it.

Ursula Wilder: I am, too.

Andrew Hammond: And I just wondered, I think a good place to start off, why do we study the psychology of world leaders?

Ursula Wilder: I mean, I have a few intuitive ideas about why we may do it, but let's we're here because you're a professional. So why do we do this? So we begin by crisis in the global or the national scale. And on that level, you look to see if there's something about the leader's personality, background, behavior in the past that can help you understand, help our leaders understand how this person is going to react in their current context, whether they're economic or politics. So when there's a crisis, it's very helpful to know about the leader's past behavior. So that's one reason. Another reason would be if there are going to be engagements or encounters with the leader. So it's helpful to know what interests the person, how they negotiate, if they have any trigger points, if there are things that they like and don't like, how they are likely to approach us or the nation that's being consulted with by a psychologist. So for example, some nations like to work out if a leader has a phobia and try to manipulate that. For example, other nations wouldn't do that, would do the opposite, or maybe it depends on context. And it's also helpful to know if there are any medical issues that need to be tended to. So it's very helpful to have this data for encounters. Lastly, it's important to know what the general attitude is towards, in our case, the United States. And in particular, perhaps the leadership of the United States are those who will be engaging with the individual. They have to be very tactful in communicating that to your customers. But that's a question they always are interested in. Now if you're assessing an encounter between two leaders that are not from the United States, in my case, then you can talk about how they get along with each other and what you can expect there and what those other leaders might want afterwards or before from the United States. So there are many reasons why this is done, but if you're going to understand a nation, it's helpful to understand the leadership, or if you're going to understand a non-nation state opponent, I think a terrorist group, it's important to know the leadership there as well.

Andrew Hammond: When you were saying phobias there, am I right in thinking that the United States is one of the countries that would not try to tug on someone's phobia?

Ursula Wilder: There is a famous incident that's been in the news, so I'm taking it from there, about how Vladimir Putin, knowing that Angela Merkel was phobic about dogs, had a huge dog seated right next to her in the encounter with him. So some do engage in triggering or infuriating or inflicting narcissistic wounds on leaders, but that's usually not productive in the long term if you do that, and it borders sometimes on unprofessional. Ultimately, you want a relationship that you can work with for a long time if you're a world leader, but it's good to know the triggers and the sore points as well as hobbies and what they like.

Andrew Hammond: And you mentioned customers there, who would customers for this product be? Would it be, for example, Bill Burns, the CIA director? He's going to meet an intelligence leader from another country, and I know you can't comment on current biographies and so forth, but I'm just giving that as an example. Could it be the CIA director, would it be the president, would it be a diplomat? Give us a variety of the types of customers that consume this type of product.

Ursula Wilder: So it is any of the senior level leaders of the United States, but the level of classification and the type of product that you've written will, to some degree, define the audience. So if it's for the president, it goes in a specific channel. If it's for members of Congress, it would go in another, but the personality is the personality, and so how you got there in terms of data is classified on a variety of levels, but the document itself can be also classified on a lot of levels with what's classified stripped out in various ways. So it's any one of our leaders in the United States who could use the information, and sometimes it's provided in writing, sometimes it's provided directly. I will say the direct engagement is a lot of fun because politicians love to gossip about other politicians, and it is assessing a person in their own domain, so they understand things well.

Andrew Hammond: And how is the information conveyed to the customers> Is it an oral briefing? Is it a written product? Is it both? Does it depend?

Ursula Wilder: It's both. It also does depend on the context, but for you as leaders, a briefing in psychology is something that works very well because people are primed to assess each other. And so if you are talking about an individual and there's a lot of back and forth, you can open up the personality in a way that helps the customer, but usually there's also a written product that they can carry away with themselves, and it's classified at the level that's appropriate. And also for me, if I'm assessing a leader, that back and forth can be very helpful because sometimes I'm told information I wasn't aware of that can get folded into the assessment. It's never happened yet, but what you fear is that somebody's met the individual, sometimes extensively or is friends with the person that you're assessing and you have it wrong. It hasn't happened yet, but that would be a wonderful corrective, although it would also be a failure to a degree. I also have to say that when I do a psych assessment, I know my job is complete when the person gets it, usually based on their previous experience with the individual. I've just framed things in a way and organized things in a way that they might not have before. So let's say, for example, a leader has a paranoid streak and you describe how paranoia isn't something that is caused by specific events. It's something that the person carries with them, let's say in this case it is. By the way, paranoia is known as a political disease, right? There's always a plot, and so every single politician understands that, but if you explain how that might drive the thinking of the individual, lights will go off in their eyes and they'll say, yes, I've seen that. Once they feel like they've grasped it, my work is done, and then it gets really interesting because I always brief, if I can, with a leadership analyst or a political analyst, then the second part happens, how all of this translates into political behavior, which is just behavior to a psychologist, but of course, that's the core job for the politician or for the customer. It's interesting to see that dynamic unfold, and I become almost irrelevant, but it's very rewarding to watch because you feel like you've had an impact. If the psych assessment is not congruent with the political behavior, then that psych assessment needs to be changed. Hasn't happened yet, but someday, right?

Andrew Hammond: How does it go for the product? I'm guessing that it varies depending on the reason and who you're giving it to and so forth, but does it follow a particular format?

Ursula Wilder: CIA has a formalized format, very rigorous format of presenting information and very succinct format because we recognize that our customers are very busy. And so in the work of the Central Intelligence Agency, your key assessment would be up front, bottom line, up front, and then after that, you have a little more freedom to describe what is most critical in this person's personality. And with psychology, it's interesting because not at CIA, but in psychology in general, you begin with a long biography of the person, and really, if that's written well, then when you finally get to the psychology, it makes sense why the person is the way they are.

Andrew Hammond: Just to clarify for our listeners as well, you work for the CIA, right?

Ursula Wilder: Right.

Andrew Hammond: And you're involved in operations. You're not in the CIA history office looking at historical examples. You're working in ongoing operations and so forth. Just clarify your position and what you do as much as you can.

Ursula Wilder: I do look at historical examples for their own sake because it's fun for me just to do that. It's kind of honing my craft and it's just fun. Let me very briefly describe what the work is of leadership analysis. So my career has been first as a medical officer, as a clinical psychologist. I was hired as a clinical psychologist, so my mothership, as we say, is medical services of the agency, but most of my career has been forward deployed. After 9/11, I was quickly and unexpectedly moved into operations and did eight years in operations, applying clinical psychology to all sorts of contexts. Before that, I was in the counterintelligence center where I met counterintelligence officers and had the opportunity to meet incarcerated spies, US spies. And after I had the work in counterterrorism, after eight years of that, I studied the psychology of counterterrorism and what it does to the people engaged in it for a year because there are substantial rewards, but also very real challenges and a toll that can be taken. Then I moved into leadership analysis. I had done analysis of terrorism leaders, same work, just different crowd, if you will. I had done quite a bit of that. And then I moved into, for five years, doing psych assessments of leaders into the unit that was actually founded by my dissertation advisor. I had two dissertation advisors, Dr. Gerald Post and Dr. Lynn Offerman, who is an expert on leadership at George Washington University way back in the day. Now I'm in other functions. I'm engaged in other functions. I completed a fellowship on technology and brain technologies and the dangers that are happening now because they're just exploding everywhere.

Andrew Hammond: Can you tell our listeners what's the profile of the people that are doing similar things to you? By that, I mean, it's not just you. You're not the sole psychologist there.

Ursula Wilder: No.

Andrew Hammond: There's a team and they're looking at different things. You mentioned counterterrorism, counterintelligence, leadership analysis. Give us an idea of the structure of all of that.

Ursula Wilder: All right. Be happy to. So let's begin with the analysts. The analysts are broken into different fields. I work mostly with sometimes military and CT, but mostly with political analysts and with leadership analysts. When I was doing a psych assessment because you cannot understand a psyche if you don't understand the context and the culture and the history and all the rest and the current political struggles and challenges and successes of the individual. So in a psych assessment, we will bring in a leadership analyst and other expert analysts as needed to do the psych assessment. The leadership analysts do leadership analysis and their main product is called a leadership profile and it is the most asked for and successful product in the agency for two reasons. One is whenever a customer is having an encounter, the leadership profile is very helpful. The other thing is whenever a customer is doing a profile, he or she wants to kind of like a People Magazine, find out what's up with this other person. I would feel the same if I got profiles from my psychologist counterparts.

Andrew Hammond: I never thought about that because there's a practical aspect to it, but there's also a titillation aspect.

Ursula Wilder: Oh, yes. Which is why it's so fun to discuss it with them, because they'll see things that we don't see in the behavior because it's what their profession is. So the leadership profile is, for want of a better term, a political biography of the leader. It's very hard to write because it can only be one page, it's front and back, but it's a political biography of the leader and that includes what the current political issues are that this leader is dealing with and how encounters this leader might have had before with our government, with other governments, whatever is relevant so that, let us say, a member of the cabinet who's meeting with the person knows what that person is all about politically and a little bit personally, but on the political behavior front. Okay? Mark Twain once said to a friend, I'm sorry I wrote such a long letter, but I didn't have time to make it short. It's very hard to write one of these. Now there's a little bit at the end about spouses and children, that's to kind of tee up a conversation perhaps in the courtesies and if there's a known health issue, it will be put carefully, okay? It's not a full health issue to protect the privacy of the individual because these products are sometimes unclassified but sometimes not, but we try to keep them minimal in terms of personal information and that's not the case with the psych assessment. The psychological assessment will be written by clinical psychologists or sometimes psychiatrists, but people who are licensed medical professionals in the domain of psychology. So it's kind of a strict criterion and there isn't that large of a team, okay? We also have psychologists who are social or industrial organizational psychologists who do group level assessments, not just of the leader, but of the dynamics around the leader. So the methods that are applied and the need for the psych assessment is truly a personality assessment, a little bit of historical, but it's not medical because we can't diagnose without meeting the person. But if there are some medical personality disordered diagnostic issues that are evident, then you write those in in a way that's not medically -- that another psychologist would detect what you're talking about, but it's not put in medical terms. I often would laugh about how I'm writing this document in code for other psychologists. So we always read each other's reports and try to like tease out what the diagnosis is and if you've done a good job, they can do that, but obviously the customers don't want all of that jargon. So together, these documents are quite powerful. The psych assessments are very, very carefully and tightly held and are classified at a high level. You know, every intelligence officer has this fantasy about seeing the file that's kept on them by the opponents. It's like the Cyclops, right? If you know when you're going to die, that's all you can think about. After you think about it, you decide you don't want to see it, and I suspect that political leaders have a similar interest in the psych assessments that are written about them, and that's frequently a playful question I get when I'm briefing customers. It's, are you doing this about me? And I'd say, no, I'm not doing that, but is this being done? And then if there's more than one customer in the room, they start diagnosing each other, which can be hilarious. So these are two different approaches and they overlap completely, and as I said, the best briefings and product is producing them side by side, because if the psychology is correct, it'll match what's in the political behavior and the political behavior will become a resonant. They understand the psychology and a little more predictive because they understand what's driving the person.

Andrew Hammond: Can you tell our listeners some of the types of people that you have briefed? Not mentioning any names, just like positions like a senator or a congressman or a leader.

Ursula Wilder: So the best that I can do here is think about the senior leaders of the US government, particularly on the executive side, but not only on the executive side. And of course, I've done some briefing internationally. So to your listeners, I would say in any country really, but let's stick with the United States, who do you think would really need this information?

Andrew Hammond: The president.

Ursula Wilder: Mm-hmm. And the cabinet. I walked through your wonderful exhibit on the Cuban Missile Crisis. I would recommend it to anyone who comes to Washington to have a look at it. Just come to the museum for a lot of things, but that one is particularly interesting to me because it contains psych assessments of Kennedy by the Soviets and of Khrushchev by the Americans, by the US. And so Kennedy was very interested in psychology, and also letters written during the Cuban Missile Crisis by both leaders, although there was a debate in the middle of the crisis about whether some of those Khrushchev letters were written by him or were written by people who wanted to take a different tact, the more nationalist types. And again, psychologists and leadership analysts would have worked very closely together to assess whether these letters were genuine or not. They're right there to be read in your exhibit. And the cabinet finally decided to go with the first letter, which was more peaceable and ignore the rest and just not respond, because they understood that Khrushchev had to do some of the heavy hitting nationalist talk publicly. So that's really interesting. It's also interesting to see how the profile matches the letters, the behavior in the letters and how complex it is, but helpful it is to know what the profiles are. I don't know if I want to tee it up too much, because then it'll spoil the surprise for your listeners. [ Music ]

Andrew Hammond: Globalization has been referred to as the compression of space and time. The Cuban Missile Crisis exhibit that we have at the International Spy Museum, which Ursula refers to in this episode, is a fantastic example of this compression of space and time. During the American Revolution, it may take a British ship four to six weeks to cross the Atlantic. It may arrive in England, communicate with government and the military leadership, then relay that information back to the commanders in the field. Essentially, if you were on a diet, you might have lost, say, 20 pounds by the time this feedback loop was closed. In other words, a lot can change during this time period. It also allows a lot of time for deliberation, reflection and deeper insight. Fast forward to the Cuban Missile Crisis, and space and time have shrunk drastically. In fact, the entire crisis is often deemed to have lasted a mere 13 days. The time it took to communicate from Washington to Moscow was hours at most, and this would be sped up yet further after the crisis with the installation of a famous hotline. Draft onto this the fact that nuclear weapons can travel vast distances and extremely compressed windows of time. Even intercontinental missiles, which, yes, might have to travel from one entire continent to another. If we are talking about submarine-launched missiles, which might have closed the gap between the launching platform and the target immensely, or even missiles based off of the coast of Florida, we are talking about a very, very narrow window of time within which to make a decision. What if you get it wrong? What if you over- or under-interpret a threat? What if we just need to slow this whole thing down to a crawl to take the heat and the emotion out of it? But what if we are dealing with periods of time so constrained that there is no built-in safety valve? In that kind of context, as you can imagine, any shred of informational advantage, any scintilla of intelligence that might give you an edge or a more complete understanding is truly welcome. This is the world that we still live in. [ Music ] I think the Cuban Missile Crisis is a great example. So you mentioned crisis at the beginning of our conversation, and to me, if I think about the Cuban Missile Crisis, it's almost like the most high-stakes game of poker that's ever existed because it's the potential future of humanity that's on the line.

Ursula Wilder: Yes.

Andrew Hammond: And in that kind of context, any shred of information that can give you a better understanding of the environment and of the person that you're playing poker with is so important. Right? So to me, it makes sense why you'd want to understand the opponent that you're up against. Like who are they in actuality as opposed to the political theater, the banging the shoe on the table, what's going on at a deeper level?

Ursula Wilder: And how they might see you and be misinterpreting you. So Kennedy had famously been engaged with Cuba before in the Bay of Pigs, which obviously was a disaster. So great political psychology theory came out of it on groupthink, and the president went to Eisenhower and asked how to avoid that. And Eisenhower gave him some tutoring and mentoring, which turned out very well during the Cuban Missile Crisis, although he wasn't a fan of the CIA for a while there, but I'm glad it was still around because we found the missiles. So now from Khrushchev's perspective, think about the Soviet behavior with all of their neighbors. They didn't tolerate any of their neighbors being unfriendly. They had to be completely under the Soviet umbrella, under the Soviet thumb. So Khrushchev's perspective would have been, okay, the young president tried this not very well organized intrusion. It failed and why didn't he send in the reinforcements? That's what we would have done. So in Khrushchev's mind, that might have meant weakness. And then President Kennedy had an engagement with Khrushchev in Vienna afterwards, in Vienna, Austria, 19 -- not Vienna, Virginia, 1961. And that did not go well from the American perspective. Kennedy was very clear that he felt he had failed because Khrushchev spent the whole time essentially pounding his shoe on the table, lecturing him and overriding him. And now Kennedy had thrown off his back, thrown out his back, planting a tree at a ceremony and was in deep pain. In addition, he was taking a cocktail of medications. A lot of people don't know that, but President Kennedy was in pain through most of his life, beginning at age 12. His bones were brittle and his body had been very damaged by the primitive treatments that were available for what turns out to be a complex Addison's disease. That's why he constantly had back trouble, because his spinal bones were very porous and brittle. He was in pain a lot and he was being badly treated by a physician at the White House who just was combining stimulants, hormones, and opioids for pain. And at one point, his brother said, why are you doing this? And he said, I don't care what it is. I don't care if it's horse piss. It makes me feel better. He was in that kind of pain. So there have been scholars who believe that part of Kennedy's behavior during that contact with Khrushchev was because of all of this, as well as Khrushchev's behavior. But let's think about how Khrushchev read the president. Okay, a very charming, affable person, but incompetent, but weak, a pacifist, a dove. So that's what's coming at from that context is how Khrushchev is coming at Kennedy. And that's where you can begin to see where psychologists assessing the two for their own nations could have a real effect. Kennedy very early on set a very firm tone with the blockade, changing the dynamic and kept control of the dynamics of his cabinet in a way that didn't happen during the Cuban Missile Crisis. So it's in that kind of engagement that the work can be very useful. But remember, everything I said to you could not have been worked out only by a psychologist or psychiatrist. You have to do that with somebody who understands the culture, the nation, the history, because there's only a few psychologists actually doing this. And we can't know every culture, every nation and every language. But that your exhibit actually makes it, I think, quite in a small amount of space, quite eloquently laid out.

Andrew Hammond: Yeah, that's one of my favorite exhibits that we have. I really enjoy it. I mean, I think that's a good example, because I've heard you elsewhere say that, so there's particular things that are going on inside of people. So it could be narcissism, paranoia, Machiavellianism, et cetera. And Kennedy coming across as affable and charming and smiling for people that have a particular psychological profile, they interpret that as weakness. But like you say, this is Krushchev misapprehending Kennedy, because Kennedy is not the pushover that Khrushchev thinks he is. But because Kennedy's came across a particular way, that's how he reads him. Well, they both had something in common. They were both war veterans. And so you begin with that. Now, Khrushchev was a self-made man, quite brilliant. He was identified early in school as having a brilliant mathematical mind. But because he came from the lowest class in his country, he was not able to get educated. And you see this with a lot of leaders, actually, that they very much want to be educated. Saddam Hussein was that way, Abraham Lincoln was that way. Over and over again, you see them drive -- Mao Zedong -- to get a higher education. He became a mining engineer, which makes sense. He built the beautiful metro in Moscow. It's gorgeous. Not that I've seen it personally, but I've seen lots of pictures. He was an extrovert. Okay? And he was very volatile, but sometimes in a cunning way. But here's something to know about Khrushchev. So after Sputnik, which was a great success, the first in space for the Soviets, they founded what's now the famous quadrennial piano competition, Tchaikovsky Piano Competition. And the very first one, a 23-year-old, 6'3 tall Texan shows up, Van Cliburn, okay, who obviously played the piano like a genius, like an angel. And he shows up and he's a Juilliard graduate and very gentle tempered, completely apolitical. And it's clear that they're in the presence of genius. Okay, so there's a big political issue now, right? This is the first Tchaikovsky competition. And here's this American who's just glowing. The Russian people loved him because he had that kind of personality. And so Khrushchev is approached. And by the way, the committee that judged the competitors was this luminous group of geniuses in Russian music. Okay, so they approach Khrushchev and they say, can we give this American the first award? And of course, the nationalists said, absolutely not. It's not clear what really happened, but there was back and forth. And Khrushchev said, is he the best? And they said, yes. So he said, give it to them. That's Khrushchev. You have to understand that if you want to understand the totality of the man. And I urge your listeners to go to YouTube and look up Van Cliburn doing his post-competition performance of Tchaikovsky, and you can see Khrushchev looking like a mining engineer of the Soviet era, you know, in the best seat in the house, just kind of really into the music. And it's a very interesting moment. And so that kind of data on a leader is absolutely critical. Now, I brought some examples. I don't know if you'd like to give this a try. Yes, please. Let's talk about Cleopatra.

Ursula Wilder: Okay. All right. So Cleopatra had a relationship and affair with Caesar and Caesar had been assassinated. And she had a child, a son by him, who was later killed by Octavian because double royalty there. But that's kind of one of the tragedies of history. So Antony is now trying to run Rome, if you will. And he decides to summon Cleopatra to meet with him because he needed the resources of Egypt. She was a great leader, empress. And there were great riches in Egypt. It was a breadbasket of that part of the Mediterranean world. And Antony needed funds. So he summons her to meet with him. And she puts it off and puts it off with multiple excuses, but finally, she has to go. So she goes up a river. She had to cross a part of the Mediterranean and go up a river to where Antony is encamped with his men. She arrives in this gold-covered barge, okay, with multiple other barges behind her, with little boys painted in silver, you know, with the feather fans, with perfumes wafting across the water. The city that Antony was next to, they all left, all the people left and were lining, you know, the sides of the river to watch this performance. And music, I mean, every sensual kind of accoutrement you could think of was there. So there she is, she arrives, the great queen. And then she doesn't go meet Antony. She decides to stay on her barge. And he, being a courteous gentleman, comes to meet her then. So he walks up. And as he approaches the barge, you have to think of this as the rock star kind of staging of that era. These lit torches and branches are dropped down from all of the trees and it lights up the night in these beautiful patterns. And it's all very opulent and beautiful and they get along. Next evening, she does join him at camp and he apologizes because it's a rough camp and of men, but she takes it in stride. She's utterly charming. And they form a relationship and he goes back to Alexandria with her and leaves his wife to take care of business in Rome, if you can believe that. She did a very good job of it. So Plutarch, 200 years later, was writing about Antony. And unlike the Romans, they were doing leadership assessments too, right? But theirs were very biased against Cleopatra, very sexualized, very Orientalist. Cicero detested her because she talked back to him and very, very debasing, which actually did not fit the person who was running this empire so well, running Egypt so well. So he, Plutarch, decides to get both sides of the story. And being a very good historian, he assessed her. And I thought maybe you should read it because it's best read in a male voice.

Andrew Hammond: So I think this is really, really, really beautiful. So for her actual beauty, it is said, was not in itself so remarkable that none could be compared with her or that no one could see her without being struck by it. But the contact of her presence, if you lived with her, was irresistible. The attraction of the person joining with the charm of her conversation and the character that attended all she said or did was something bewitching. It was a pleasure merely to hear the sound of her voice with which, like an instrument of many strings, she could pass from one language to another so that there were few of the barbarian nations that she answered by an interpreter. Really beautiful.

Ursula Wilder: Yeah, that is very beautiful. And that is one of the best descriptions of personal charisma around. Looking at a person first in terms of appearance just didn't apply here. She wasn't unpalatable, but no one noticed that because of the power of her presence and her conversation. And of course, the multilingual hints at her brilliance. She learned languages for fun. So did Elizabeth I of England. She would translate in circles. She would take English, put it in Latin, put it in another language, and then go back to English in a meditative sense.

Andrew Hammond: I thought it was just me.

Ursula Wilder: No.

Andrew Hammond: No, I'm joking.

Ursula Wilder: No. I'm sure you do. You do it with Russian and Chinese, you know, different languages. So that's leadership analysis. Now it was 200 years after the person and we would be more neutral in language. Remember the biases against her, which were dangerous biases. I mean, she did form relationships with the two most powerful men in her era. And that tells you something about their judgment of her. And they had children with her, which was dangerous, actually, in succession.

Andrew Hammond: Just briefly, I think just to put this in context. So one thing that I always find fascinating as a historian is that Cleopatra is closer to us in time, like chronological time, than she was to the pyramids at Giza. That's crazy. That shows you how ancient and long Egyptian culture was. We are closer to her than she was to the pyramids. And just for Antony as well, I feel because of the space of 2,000 years, because of Shakespeare, because of, you know, because of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, I feel like Antony's been misinterpreted. There's no two ways about it. Caesar is one of the greatest generals in history. And his most trusted and capable general was Antony. This is somebody that endured years of hardship fighting on the remote corners of the empire. You know, this is not some weak, lily-livered, you know, effeminate man that people think of.

Ursula Wilder: No.

Andrew Hammond: This is like a tough soldier who's just bewitched by this personal power that we've been speaking about, which I just think is completely incredible.

Ursula Wilder: It is incredible. And we fool ourselves if we think that the same thing couldn't happen now. That similar dynamics would unfold now between the people who are playing politics or military at that level. [ Music ]

Andrew Hammond: This episode leads to a reflection on the idea of history repeating itself. Is history characterized by chiming, rhyming, repeating, or eternal recurrence? This idea of repetition can be understood, I would suggest, in more than one way. The notion of history repeating itself is, of course, scoffed at by some historians who prioritize the uniqueness of the past. Skewered by people who prefer the concreteness of the present, or seen as dangerous by those who welcome the open-endedness of the future. To me, the issue is not, will the same set of circumstances replicate in the same way at a different period of historical time? The answer to that is very, very simple. No. Unlike the physical world, which stays relatively permanent over long periods of time, think of the life cycle of the sun, and the biological world, where change is imperceptibly slow, albeit happening, social systems created by human beings are continually in flux. Actors are continually modifying their behavior, and technological change is continually undermining settled and established ways of doing things. Think of 20th century America. This is a million miles away from a controlled experiment in a laboratory where we examine the effect changing A has on B, while keeping C, D, E, and F constant. In human affairs, this simply isn't possible. The issue then is, will human beings find themselves responding to similar situations in different historical circumstances? Then we must adjust our answer to yes. Indeed, this is one of the reasons to study Cleopatra, Caesar, and Churchill, although far from the only one. Can we find archetypes, draw patterns, see similarities or differences, and form constellations from the millions of stars in the night sky of time? Of course we can. This does not mean that some simplistic course of action will fall into our laps if we do so, if we're looking for inspiration from history. There are so many variables to consider, so many things that may have changed since we last saw a similar constellation. One writer has noted that the past is a foreign country. They do things differently there. My answer would be definitely, but not all the time. [ Music ]

Ursula Wilder: Antony and Caesar were genuine geniuses, very different personalities, of course. Caesar, I was going to recommend actually reading memoirs if you want to understand personality, including contemporary memoirs, if you're assessing somebody who's alive now. But you have to be careful because some of them are propaganda, but some of them are true masterworks. And Caesar's memoirs --

Andrew Hammond: The Gallic War.

Ursula Wilder: Yeah, but also the Civil War.

Andrew Hammond: The Civil War.

Ursula Wilder: If you think that he's addressing you, and in the Civil War in particular, he was addressing the reader personally. And you have somebody read that to you, or you're listening on a book that's been recorded. It's eerie how much his personality becomes present. And you can feel that incisive mind and the persuasiveness. And the reason why we still see films of Cleopatra, however bad they are, of Cleopatra and Antony and Caesar is because their charisma carries forward. The charisma of these individuals, including some of the bad ones, carries over through time. You know that poem Ozymandias?

Andrew Hammond: Shelley?

Ursula Wilder: Yeah, yeah, Shelley. That is what every leader fears. Maybe you can read the poem later. But it's about how you show up in the desert and there's this broken statue, the legs are still upright, everything else is in pieces, but the face, which is a sneer of power. And the poem's about how it's in the middle of the desert, and it says something, I am Ozymandias, king of kings, look upon my face and be terrified or something like that. I'm not being poetic here, but read the poem. And it's forgotten. See, the opposite, he's forgotten. Ozymandias is nothing but broken legs in the desert. Leaders fear that. They don't fear being hated most. They fear being forgotten. So the opposite of love isn't hate -- it's indifference. And so every leader thinks about the vision and the future, and even the best ones have this in them. But of course, the Caesars and the Antonys and the Cleopatras and way back in time, maybe the Arthurs, Charlemagne, Solomon the Great, they all will forever be in the history books. Now, just to give you a taste of Caesar. Okay, so here's Caesar, the famous line, I came, I saw, I conquered.

Andrew Hammond: Veni, vidi, vici.

Ursula Wilder: Yeah, the most famous line in Latin that everybody knows, that was his report back after a lightning strike to conquer the prince, to overcome the prince of Pontus. Okay, and that's all he had to say. Now, there's a whole personality built into that, isn't there? The succinctness, the brilliant alliteration, and the playfulness, and the truth of it is he did, he came, he saw what was happening, he did some of his usual brilliant maneuvers, he conquered and he came back. So that's a great kind of cable back from the field.

Andrew Hammond: It's fascinating, and I feel like there's so much certitude that comes across in that, and you read this in the Gallic Wars and the Civil Wars, there's so much, this is what I'm going to do, and I'm going to do it, and I'm going to overcome any and all opposition, even if that means that I have to march on Rome itself, which is something that was completely forbidden to do. And there's this great story of Caesar coming across a statue of Alexander the Great when he's a governor in Spain, and apparently Caesar's like 50 years old at this point, and he breaks down in tears. At the age of 30, Alexander the Great had conquered the known world, and here I am governing sheep farmers, counting pennies, and so forth. I mean, he's a really incredible and quite ugly to modern sensibilities figure, but very, very fascinating.

Ursula Wilder: But he also wrote elegantly. Ulysses S. Grant is another person who wrote beautiful war memoirs, and he was asked about his style, and he said, I've written military orders, and you have to write them in a certain style, unambiguous, clear, succinct, and that helped him write his history of the Civil War. And he wrote that while he was dying of cancer of the throat, in great pain, and he needed to do this because there'd been financial reverses. He was bankrupt, and he wanted to leave his family with a source of income. So he sat on the back porch and wrote in great pain -- he couldn't swallow with that great agony at the end -- these wonderful works. And a week later, once he put down his pen or pencil, he died. So these minds, these military leaders are very interesting type.

Andrew Hammond: He's another one in terms of brevity. So there's this famous story after the first day of the Battle of Shiloh, where the Union army gets pushed back almost into the Tennessee River, and Sherman finds him underneath a tree smoking a cigar in the pouring rain, and he's gingerly trying to approach the topic of retreat, and he goes up to Grant and says, well, Grant, we've had the devil's own day, haven't we? You know, maybe we should get out of here. And Grant just responds, lick him tomorrow, though. Four words, lick him tomorrow, though. Like just your back's against the river, everybody else has lost their nerve, and you're just like, no, we're going to win tomorrow. That's kind of incredible.

Ursula Wilder: Yeah. That sounds like Ulysses S. Grant.

Andrew Hammond: Yeah.

Ursula Wilder: He was a masterful horseman. He had abused alcohol. He had this relationship with Sherman that was tight. Sherman famously said, you know -- I don't know who said what, but essentially the line was, I looked after him when he was drunk, and he looked after me when I was crazy. Now imagine Grant, what you just described, working with Lincoln, and that personality for the ages, too. So Lincoln was self-taught. He had basically three years of elementary school education, and yet he produced the Gettysburg Address, one of the most beautiful prose poems ever written, which completely recast what the Constitution was all about. So it was quite controversial in its time among some circles. But he had clinical depression. Churchill did, too. Lincoln had clinical depression, and people would say things like melancholy dripped off of him. He was suicidal at one point. His friends removed his weapon, his knife, his razor. But he was absolutely driven to be educated and knew at the end that he was likely, he was prophetic, likely to be assassinated. And that personality worked well with Grant. He selected him as his next general. How do you --

Andrew Hammond: Lincoln had just had this tremendous thirst for learning, didn't he? There's this great quote as well. We should move on to the next question.

Ursula Wilder: I'm enjoying the conversation, Andrew.

Andrew Hammond: But there's this other great quote where people are, I think, jealous of Grant. And they're saying to Lincoln, you know, he's a drunkard. People find him and he can hardly speak. He's slurring his words and stuff. Lincoln says, well, let's find out what whiskey he's drinking and give it to the other generals.

Ursula Wilder: That sounds like Lincoln.

Andrew Hammond: Yeah.

Ursula Wilder: Yeah, Lincoln. Laughter for him was a balm and a medicine.

Andrew Hammond: So one of the things that I wanted to ask as well, Ursula, was, as far as you know, do other countries do this? Do they do the psychology of world leaders? I mean, it's probably a silly question, but people are looking at American presidents and saying, what are they all about?

Ursula Wilder: It's not a silly question. It's actually a very good question, because this has been done from the very beginning of recorded military history and then political history. So all the big theorists since, you know, Machiavelli and Clausewitz, they all say you must understand the opponent and the psychology of the leaders. I noticed when I was walking through the exhibit, they have a little bit of a scene there of the Trojan War. Okay. So during COVID, I couldn't concentrate on professional work all that well. So I decided to write about the Iliad and the Odyssey, because my son was home as a student of classics. And it struck me that Ulysses, Odysseus was the first case officer. Okay, he's a classic case officer. So I wrote a piece on that. But he and his friend Diomedes, his pal Diomedes in the Iliad, as you know, did the infamous, a famous night expedition into the enemy camp to gather intelligence. And when they catch the spy from the Trojan side coming to spy on them, they ask him a series of very keen intelligence questions, including the morale of Hector and of the Trojans and the dynamics in the leadership. So it was there from the very beginning. And of course, Ulysses, Odysseus was the mastermind of the Trojan horse and the most famous infiltration operation in history. So it goes all the way back to the beginning. And in my agency, it began in World War Two with Carl Jung, Agent 488. He would have probably done a lot of fun things with the numbers had he known them because he was a kind of mystic, who was recruited by Alan Dulles, okay, to do essentially what I do on every level, operational and psychological world leaders. So we can only assume that our other countries, our opponents, as well as our friends do this as well. Now, I have met with my counterparts in friendly countries, our closest allies. I'll let you figure out who they are. And we would never be so impolite as to mention doing assessments of each other's leaders. But we do exchange assessments or information about our assessments of other leaders, ones that are kind of mutually opponents on one level or the other, and exchange methods. So the very fact that we can do that suggests that yes, it's happening. So what I generally say is any country that has a history of psychology and psychiatry and using this in national security will be doing this. Some of them outsource it to academics. But certainly in the military context, I can't imagine any effective military not doing this. [ Music ]

Andrew Hammond: Thanks for listening to this episode of spycast. Please follow us on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have feedback, you can reach us by email at spycast@spy.org, or on Twitter @intlspycast. If you go to our page at thecyberwire.com /podcast/spycast, you can find links to further resources, detailed show notes and full transcripts. I'm your host, Andrew Hammond, and my podcast content partner is Erin Dietrich. The rest of the team involved in the show is Mike Mincey, Memphis Von III, Emily Coletta, Emily Renz, Ariel Samuel, Afua Inokwa, Elliott Peltzman, Tré Hester, and Jen Eiben. This show is brought to you from the home of the world's preeminent collection of intelligence and espionage related artifacts, the International Spy Museum. [ Music ]