Dec 17, 2021

Russia, terrorism and misinformation.

Russia, terrorism and misinformation.

A conversation with Clint Watts.

It's not every day you get to talk with a former FBI agent, or someone who has testified before Congress, or someone who has worked under Robert Mueller.

It's even more rare to get all those things in a single person, which was the pleasure I had on Thursday when I sat down (remotely) with Clint Watts.

Watts is a former U.S. Army officer and FBI agent who moved into the cyberwarfare space after, as he put it, terrorists moved to the internet. Before the 2016 election, he was probably best known for his work researching and tracking terrorism attacks as a member of the Joint Terrorism Task Force at the FBI. He's worked under Robert Mueller, who is now best known for serving as special counsel in the investigation of former President Donald Trump. And in 2017, Watts made headlines for his testimony before Congress on the cyberwarfare tactics Russia had used during the 2016 election.

Today, Watts is a senior fellow at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University and a Foreign Policy Research Institute fellow. As you'll see in our conversation, Watts and I have plenty to talk about — and plenty to disagree on. I always remind readers that I do not bring on guests to be combative or have thunder dome-style debates, I bring them on to hear their views on the world. I share my own opinion in a few places where I think it’s appropriate. While we may not see eye-to-eye on everything (just see some of my previous writing on the discussions we cover), we also do have common ground on plenty. Alas, it’s a very American conversation.

Watts is a fascinating character and has the unique ability to explain in simple terms many of the convoluted political events of the last five years. I’m grateful he gave me his time. We spoke for about 45 minutes, most of which has been transcribed in this newsletter. It’s a long issue, but I think there are really interesting nuggets all throughout. If you’d prefer to listen, there will be a podcast version of our conversation released in a few days, as well.

Everything below has been lightly edited for length and clarity. I hope you enjoy it.