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Hello from the Lincoln Project and welcome back. I'm Ron Suslow.


Last week, the story broke that there were multiple cybersecurity breaches of federal government computer systems, including the Departments of Energy, Treasury, Commerce and Homeland Security. We also learned that these breaches may have been going on for months before they were discovered. We still don't fully know the scale, scope or impact of the attack. But U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency did say the attack poses a grave risk to all levels of government, critical infrastructure and parts of the private sector.


U.S. intelligence believes hackers infiltrated an Austin based software company called Solar Winds and used a software update to conduct the attack. This is so concerning because solar winds customers include government agencies and more than 400 of the top Fortune 500 companies. The attacks could have started as early as March 20 20, and they were still ongoing when they were discovered. So the primary objective has been to stop the attacks. Now we're still learning more about these attacks and what information was compromised, but it does look like the hack was conducted by Russia.


Russian foreign policy has been such a large part of the narrative around the Trump administration that I really wanted to understand these hacks within the context of that and talk a little bit more about the U.S. government's relationship with Russia after Trump leaves office and what national security concerns we should have about Trump's relationship with Russia once he does leave office.


So to help me understand this, I asked Tom Nichols to join me today. Tom is a link at Project Senior Advisor, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College and at the Harvard Extension School, the author of several works on foreign policy and international security affairs, and a five time undefeated Jeopardy! Champion. Tom, first Jeopardy champion ever to come on the podcast. Welcome.


Thanks. It's the only thing on my resume that people ever say, oh, no, that's impressive.


So so, Tom, before we get started, before we started recording, we were talking about the chessboard that is hanging on your wall behind you. Do you want to tell our listeners a little bit about that? Oh, well, I my daughter is was adopted in Russia, so I got talking with her one time about chess and the Russian national sport. And I said, you know, now and then I chat with Garry Kasparov on social media, the greatest one of the greatest chess players in human history.


And my daughter was duly impressed. And I asked him for a signed picture for her. This was back during the 2016 election when Garry was fighting Putin and never trumpeter's in the Lincoln Project. Days were fighting Trump. And then, of course, everyone fighting Putin and Trump realized they were fighting with the same guys. And Gary out of nowhere just sent me a very nice chess board with an inscription to keep up the good fight and and signed by Gary himself.


And I decided, you know, when you have a chess board that's been signed by one of the masters, you know, of one of the greatest historical masters of the game, you frame it and you put it up and you don't hide that one in a drawer. So, you know, it's funny, a lot of people have asked me that question. Why do you have a chess? Where is that? Because you're some kind of a strategist.


And I'm like, oh, I said, no, it's not nearly that clever. It's it's me fanboy, a grandmaster.


So, yeah, but the cool points just went way up in the last like month or so because of the Queen's Gambit, right? Yeah.


You know, that's it is true. And people have asked me more about it because there they're definitely more attuned to chessboards now. So. Yeah, but I was a big fan of of dairy before it was cool.


So that's terrific. So speaking of Russia, we learned from a Reuters report last week that the Department of Homeland Security, Treasury and Commerce were hacked. We later learned that the Department of Energy was hacked and that Russia's foreign intelligence service, the SVR, was most likely the culprit. Can you start by helping us understand what the SVR is and why these hacks are so concerning? Yeah, the SVR is the foreign arm of Russian intelligence after the fall of the Soviet Union, the KGB, the Committee for State Security, split into the Federal Security Bureau and the SVR, the Foreign Intelligence Service, and the SVR is their civilian intelligence service.


The previous chicanery with the Russian elections excuse me, with the American elections from the Russians, that was the GRU, which is a Russian acronym for military intelligence. Those guys are really hard core. They're even scarier than the SVR. The SVR is plenty bad when you hear that. Just think the KGB and the you know, basically the Russian intelligence services hacked us and went big and understandably so. This is a great time for them to think about pulling stuff like this, considering the situation where.


So can you help us understand the scale of these attacks as well? And for those who may not have been following the story so closely, why we're very concerned about them?


Well, first, I don't have any inside information on the scale. I think that's something we're all still learning about. And I should also add, I don't speak for the Naval War College or the US government or anybody else. So I'm here purely in my personal capacity as a scholar. I think there's a couple of reasons to be concerned about the scale of this hack, which is first and I'm not an expert on cybersecurity, but this is basic intelligence tradecraft.


This is like pulling open, to use a Russian analogy. It's like opening up nesting dolls that once you born into some of these organizations, we're seeing this now with the hacks at Treasury and Commerce that you can get into the home accounts of people whose emails and other information of these organizations and you just dragnet in all this information, you start looking for connections, you start picking up passwords. And pretty soon a hack that started in one place turns into access someplace a lot more sensitive.


And that's just, again, that standard intelligence work. You know, you you start peeling the onion and you see where it goes. The other reason that this is really concerning is because it's almost like they're not even trying to keep it a secret. I mean, this was just a blitz. This was just a hacking blitz because they're not afraid of us and they don't take us seriously. I mean, this has been part of an ongoing at the risk of people getting mad and yelling about both sides ism and all that crap.


You know, this has been a trend that started to pick up steam, I would say, going back twenty five or thirty years somewhat in abeyance after 9/11, but certainly picked up steam again in the Obama years and then went totally on steroid in the Trump years of just not taking America seriously as a country, not really worrying. So, I mean, I'm I was one of the government employees whose data was hacked by the Chinese some years ago.


This is not the first time that foreign entities have decided they can just stomp all over us with clits.


Yeah, maybe you can talk a little bit more about the timing of this, because I had had Malcolm Nance on recently to talk about this transition period and and what's going on at DOD right now and how now is the perfect time when, you know, when when the transfer of power is in is essentially in question being questioned by the sitting president, the United States, you know, for for an adversary to take advantage of our essentially not paying attention.


Do you think the timing is sort of core to this attack?


Absolutely. And it's more than not paying attention. It's not that the Trump I think you could make that argument about the Obama administration, that they were just distracted. They didn't really care about the stuff. They had other fish to fry in places like Iran. This is worse. This is Trump actively covering for the Russians, Trump actively trying to direct our attention away from the Russians while our own intelligence services are telling us, but never mind our own intelligence services.


How about Trump appointees like Barr and Pompeo and others saying, yes, this with the Russians and Trump, who is for obvious reasons, I think, related to his finances and his personal behavior, he is terrified of the Russians. And so any time the Russians do anything, the president steps out there to say, oh, no, not my friend Vladimir Putin, possibly be those guys. And then, of course, he has to add nobody's been tougher on the Russians, but that's nonsense.


I mean, he hasn't been tough on the Russians. He covers for them and the Russians know help cover for them in an emboldened.


How do you think about these in the context of cyber warfare, because, you know, it's it's still easy, I think, to think about war as exclusively physical when we hear that word. But it seems to me that more and more cyber warfare is is the new frontier of what war is going to look like going forward.


So how do you see these conflicts playing out in cyberspace?


I have trouble with the term cyber warfare. I think of it like I mean, that term is like cyber sex. It excites some of the same emotions and it's different. And we know that somehow the way to think about this is that it is a new arena of shadow warfare, of the intelligence competition and intelligence conflict. This is where espionage and sabotage and covert activity are going. They're going into the cyber realm. There's a professor at MIT who coined a great expression code does not explode and that so it's different in some sense from calling it from war as opposed to cyber warfare.


Now, you can hurt people. I mean, you can you can mess up air traffic control. You can blow up energy depots. You can do all kinds of bad things with cyber activity. But I think of those as the as old fashioned sabotage and espionage. And I think people should think about that because to put it in the framework of war limits, your options. Yeah, well, it's war. So therefore, we either have to kind of go all in or do nothing.


This is shadow warfare. This is espionage, and it should be countered appropriately. We need to have a cadre of covert operatives just the way everybody else does. And we do. We have a cyber command. We have people at CIA and other intelligence organizations who do cyber stuff. But I think we have to just take that that aspect of it more seriously to say that this is just now where espionage and sabotage are going.


When you think about espionage and sabotage and as you call it, sort of warfare. Are there similar doctrines to, for example, proportional response is a very standard way of thinking about traditional warfare, physical responses.


Does the same kind of thinking hold true when we're talking about shadow warfare? Absolutely.


I'll just put in a plug here and say that in the summers at Harvard Summer School, I teach a course on the future of warfare and we talk about just war principles like proportionality, which are really important. And part one of the reasons proportionality is important is that it's a way that makes sure that little wars and small operations don't become big works. So you do have to observe principles of proportionality. An important part of espionage, of course, is deniability to be able to say, well, you know, like we've all seen Mission Impossible.


We're saying this because I was actually watching the original Mission Impossible the other night and laughing at, of course, if any of you or your team or caught the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your mission. You know, and those are all really important parts of being able to do this. And I think, again, to go back to the Russian hacks. Yeah, they're not even trying. It's like, yeah, all right. Whatever it was us, it was gigantic.


We did it. We know our fingerprints are on it and they're kind of shrugging and saying, what are you going to do about it? Yeah, your own president's on our side. So you know what? So come at me, bro. You know, think what do you got?


You know? Right. Well, if you were thinking about if you were thinking about a proportional response to the type and and scale, although we don't really know the scale yet of these attacks, what would that look like if we were to engage in a in a counterattack at this level? Can you give us an idea of what that would look like for the Russians?


Well, I think one thing to understand is that proportional does not mean symmetrical. May say more about that. Russia and the United States are not the same. We don't have the same kind of infrastructure. We don't have the same kind of economy. I think the a while back after the twenty sixteen election, one of the ideas that was floated about how to put a stop to this kind of behavior was that you have to make it hurt and you have to make it hurt in a way that the Russian government can't just pass it off onto the Russian people.


And by that I mean sanctions. For example, we say, well, we'll sanction them. The problem with authoritarian government is that they can just pass the pain along to the public, say, well, it's not us, you know, it's the Americans. They sanction you and that's why you don't have cheese and butter and that further galvanize.


Isn't that exactly right? Exactly. So the best idea I heard after twenty sixteen was that a proportional but asymmetrical response would be to start going after all of the secrets that matter personally to. Vladimir Putin, like where is his money, how much of it does he have? Yeah, what country is he stashing it in? Where is it going? Do do what? Look, Americans are we're we're the king of the capitalist man. We know how to track money.


You know, we do that better than anybody in the world. So I always thought that if the Russians, to use the political science term, don't cut the shit that we ought to say, look, you know, we're not going to hurt your people. We're not going to harm your infrastructure. Our argument is not with the Russian people. I friends in Russia. I mean, I am actually a Russified phile. I'm just just for the record, because people always come at me later and say, well, you just hate Russia.


I'm the guy that for twenty five years has been advocating for better ever since I was a Reaganite Cold Warrior. And after the end of the Cold War, I said, time to bring Russia into the family. I am actually Orthodox Christian. My daughter was born in Moscow. My home is full, as you can see behind me is full of Russian art.


Don't forget the chess board. And that's just for my book and Russian my tchotchkes from the Soviet trains. I mean, I've been I've been I have a great affection for this country. So my answer is, don't don't make this into some kind of don't get baited into making this some kind of symmetrical warfare with the Russian people. Go after go after the guys that are that are responsible and who are giving the permission for it and start with Putin and work your way down and make their lives difficult.


So what you're talking about is almost like a, you know, a a counterintelligence doxxing of of of Putin to all of our NATO allies. I think that the Russian people should know what Putin's up to, I think that's what he's really scared of. I don't think Putin cares about people in the way. I mean, everybody in the West knows all this stuff already. I think that what he's really worried about is his own people finding stuff out. And I think that if we're going the thick of it this way, the Russians struck at a at a vulnerability that's clearly an American vulnerability.


Our economy, our government institutions, our business institutions, the vulnerability on the Russian side, is it closely held secrets of those government leaders who fear most of all their own people? Putin's biggest fear in the world is a color revolution or internal being deposed internally or a group around him deciding that he's too dangerous or too bad for Russian business. And I think we ought to think about tailoring our response in that way. There's a great story, and I'll just digress for a minute here and say that when we and we tried to think about how to sanction now, this didn't work, obviously, but it was it shows you some creative thinking when we thought about how to sanction the North Koreans back when Kim Jong un's dad was still running things, Kim Jong Il, we said, or is we some of our less bright congressmen thought of Kim Jong to we we said, well, what is it this guy really cares about?


You can't keep starving his people because he starves its own people just for laughs. I mean, he doesn't care about that stuff. And so he started reaching out to our allies and saying, let's let's embargo things like Courvoisier and Rolex watches. And then back in the days when you could embargo porn, I guess. But, you know, he's a he's a cognac. As one doctor who interviewed him said, he gets a cognac guzzling hypochondriac and, you know, shut off the cognac, shut off the expensive watches that he gives to his inner circle, shut off the porn that makes his days bearable.


And I think obviously not exactly those items, but I think that we have to think in those more creative terms when we think about striking back at foreign regimes because it can't just be symmetrical, it can't be tit for tat. We have to think about what their vulnerabilities are and the things that would really kind of get them to stop what they're doing. So as you mentioned, both Mike Pompeo and Bill Barr have said that Russia is likely behind the attacks and despite that, obviously, Trump took to Twitter to suggest that China could be responsible.


And this isn't new for Trump. I mean, if you think back to Helsinki, right, the US intelligence officials determined that Russia interfered in the twenty sixteen election and then Trump met with Putin and essentially said Putin denied it. So I'm going to believe him specifically in these hacks that we're talking about. Now, why is Trump suggesting it's China when senior US officials have publicly claimed it was Russia? But I suppose more broadly, what reasons would Trump have for siding with Putin other than the obvious?


I think that's it. And I think, you know, we can apply Occam's razor here. Let's go with the simplest explanation. He is scared to death because for 30 years he has been doing dirty deals with Russian oligarchs. Now, one of the mistakes that people on the left and in the anti Trump movement in general made was they overplayed this. And they said that Trump's a Russian agent, as though somehow Putin calls up in the morning, says, now, remember, Donald, you know, to destroy NATO by 4:00 today because this was our bargain.


You know, that's not how that's not how any of that works. The way it the way it works is he knows they have stuff on him. They know they have stuff on them. They know that he knows and he will be innately cautious rather than trigger any of their anger. It's kind of like, you know, running into somebody on the street that, you know, you owe money to. You know, you're going to be as pleasant as possible, you know, and say, hey, how are you know, you're not going to you know, you're not going to give him the finger in traffic.


You're going to, you know, try and stay out of his way because, you know, you're in a in a weak relative position. So I think he brings up China as a way of just throwing sand into the gears because he also has conditioned his loyalists to think of China as the boogeyman for everything. He did that starting four, five years ago. You know, China's cleaning our clock. They're taking our lunch. They gave us the bad virus, the you know, the Kong flew.


All the racist Chinese have been very successful at that. Yeah. You know, it's for his for his loyalists, for his most loyal supporters. Racism is an easy sell. And also, let's let's give Trump one inch of credit. There's plenty to be mad at the Chinese about. Sure. Right. It takes a little bit of truth and then mixes it with in a cauldron of lies.


And, yeah, that is Trump's secret sauce to take one small thing that has an element of truth and then turn it into something that is completely crazy, pants coocoo. And so I think he just brings up China as a way of saying, well, it's clearly has to be some big state actor and it can't be Russia because I have to defend Russia. I think the word we should always think of when we think of Trump when it comes to Russia is not an agent or it's compromise.


The word you want to use here is compromised. Right. He is compromised. There is a reason that somebody with his financial history and his contacts and dealings would never be allowed to get a security clearance in the United States because it is just too dangerous, because there is just too much leverage over someone like that. Yeah, and that, I think, is why whenever, you know, you brought up Helsinki, Ron. And to me, I thought I really thought it shows you how naive we were once.


All young and naive. Right. And it was only two years ago I really thought that Helsinki was when the Republican establishment was going to say, oh, my God, you know, enough is enough. He has sold out the country. It did feel like that at the time.


I did this to this moment of the Republican establishment, the foreign policy establishment, you know, course establishment is a trigger word for Trump's people, but so institutions, the institutions.


How about normal people? About normal people? Right. Instead of saying the establishment, how about saying normal human beings would finally have said, my God, this guy is in bed with our enemies. I mean, Helsinki, what I physically felt my face like, flush with embarrassment on his behalf while I was watching it, it made me physically uncomfortable to watch it. I said, this is I've never seen an American president physically, literally power in front of a Russian in.


And it was now I thought, you know, now I know how people in defeated countries feel. You know, you mentioned him not, you know, under normal circumstances, never being allowed to participate in intelligence, being able to get a security clearance as a as a you know, if he were to go try to work for the CIA, for example, I asked General by. Michael Hayden for the public on the podcast. I mean, yeah, about, you know, about the kinds of things that, you know, Hayden, as you know, ran both the CIA and the NSA.


The only man ever to do both of those things. And I asked him, what are the types of things that you look for and what are the types of red flags that you look for? And it was an incredible honor to talk to him. But basically, all of them, all of the red flags go off with this guy.


So, you know, to your point about a, you know, a sitting president of the United States cowering to a foreign adversary, what dangers does that present and and inciting with leaders of foreign countries over our own intelligence community? What kind of dangers does that present? And and I guess more broadly and with a longer view, how much damage do you think he has done not just to our own intelligence community's ability to do their job, but to our to our standing in the world, to our own, to our national security because of this behavior, because of how he'd been compromised by the Russians.


The damage is incalculable in some areas. I think the the most important thing to understand about the damage Trump did is that he has proven that America is capable of losing its mind, which until now was always a hypothetical. If you talk to some of our friends overseas, if you talk to some of our NATO allies, you know, they will say things like we we always thought this was possible, but we didn't think you would do it. In other words, that you really that you would elect someone who says, the hell with Europe, you're on your own.


Know, we don't really care about alliances.


I mean, I think our our friends around the world always understood that there's kind of an ignorant, nativist isolationist streak in America. There always has been goes all the way back to the nineteen thirties and the people who wanted to keep us out of World War Two, you know, but I think in the in the post World War Two environment our allies counted on. Yeah. You Americans, you have a lot of ugly fights at home. But we always know that we're part of one family of democracies and NATO is going to be there and we have our tiffs.


But you're basically the sensible leader of the free world, even though you're kind of, I think the Europeans and always like those kind of hicks or hillbilly sometimes, but basically good hearted people that will do the right thing. What Trump did is prove that we are capable of not being good hearted people who will not do the right thing. And the the metaphor I use is this is like being married to someone that you really love but have all the normal problems in a relationship.


And then one day your significant other hits you. No matter how much you patch the relationship up, it's no longer a hypothetical. You can always say, well, she never hit me or he never throw anything. Now you can say in the entire relationship until you die, there was still a moment where the hypothetical became real. And I think that's what our allies are going to have to live with and that we're going to have to live with for years to come as a country, for decades to come as a country, that to me is the real damage that Trump did was to prove that we are capable of losing our minds and abusing and lashing out at our best friends.


And I don't see how we can over the. And I'll tell you, if there had been four more, because this guy I just got chills the way you put that.


I've never heard anybody put it quite like that.


I, I sometimes I'm reluctant to do that because, you know, it's a really uncomfortable metaphor and I'm sure it raises ugly feelings and a lot of human beings and I, I don't mean to do that. And I'm sorry, but it is it is the thing. Well, I put another way. It's like cheating, you know, it's like being in a relationship where somebody cheats. And again, even if you put it back together, you would live with that knowledge that this is now possible.


Yeah, and I think that's what Trump did. He took the knowledge that something that was only ever hypothetical became real for four years. And I was going to say, Ron, you know, four more years of this, I don't think we could have put it back together. I think four more years he would have finished the job of destroying America in the world would have been not just America first, would have been America alone. Yeah. And we would have really learned what it's like, as I said earlier, to be a defeated power, to be to to be a first rank power headed into the second or third rank of power despite our immense economy and our remarkable military prowess.


Because without values, without will, without ideals, we're just another big muscle bound lunk on the world scene that other people have to work around. And I think that's where Trump was bringing in. So thank God this thing came to an end when it did. Yeah, well, we got a month ago still, but.


Yeah, well, and he is know that is a real danger. I mean, my my big concern here is that he is angling now. I think after he and I don't mean to go sideways on us here and become even darker and more of Professor Buzzkill, but my real concern is now that he's been defeated in the courts, he's been defeated, you know, with this all this crazy talk in his next move is going to be to trigger some kind of a military conflict.


So, yeah, I want to go back to the hacks now because we've got to talk about the incoming Biden administration. And these are all happening right at the tail end of the Trump administration. So there's a lot of cleanup that needs to be done and and securing systems and and all of that's going to have to happen in the Biden administration because we know the Trump administration is going to do a thing. What are they going to need to do to respond to this?


And I you know, we talked a little bit about this earlier in terms of proportional responses. But beyond the response, I mean I mean, domestically here, what are we going to need to do to clean this up at home? Well, to link it back to the timing of this attack, the Russians know that the Trump administration is not cooperating with the Biden administration and they are counting on a lot of time and information being lost in the handover.


If I were the Russians, this is what I would have done. I would have waited till this this moment of chaos. I would have struck and said, what are they going to do about it? Half of this stuff isn't even going to get to the desk of the next cyber director because Trump firing everybody willy nilly and the transition teams aren't talking. That's happening.


Who's got the passwords that we that was three years ago. You don't know where they are, right?


When you know I mean, when when the two most common names in your national security structure are acting in vacant.


You know, there's just there's you know, you don't spend a lot of time if you're in the Kremlin worrying about who you're pissing off. Yeah. So the first thing the Biden administration is going to have to do is to get ground truth on what happened. Yeah, because the Trump administration clearly is not going to share this with. And so there is going to be some time lost. If I were if I were offering advice, the Biden administration, which I'm not because, of course, you know, we're always so you Lincoln Project guys that you're running the Biden you know, you're asking me as an expert on Russian affairs, my answer and as a former Senate guy, just to remind people, I did I was once a Republican and I did work for Republicans in the Senate.


My my answer would be take your time and find out what happened, get your people in place, you know, and and then do all of this stuff quietly. Because I think one thing that the. That was lost in the Trump era, and again, I think this is some this is a characteristic that he shared to some extent with Obama, start using the back channels more. Now, Obama did that pretty effectively in the Iran deal. But I think the I think the great Achilles heel of the Obama administration was the obsession with getting the Iran deal start using the back channel and have somebody who can go to Moscow who has Biden's trust and confidence and that the Russians know has Biden's trust and confidence.


And to say, you know, six months from now, we've we've done our homework, we know what happened. Here's what you're going to stop doing. Yeah. And here are the bad things that could happen. And I'm not I'm not saying this is this is when a back channel is really useful. If somebody be able to say, look, I'm not saying this publicly, we're not putting you on the spot and just telling you you're going to have to cut the crap.


I'm the captain. Yeah. Yeah. You know, the party's over.


You know, the guy that wasn't checking IDs at the door and was handing out drinks to the 12 year olds, you know, is gone. We're going to run a clean joint around here now. And I think that will just take time. And it and it needs to be done with with no drama and with quiet competence. Right. And the Russians will I think I think if you take that approach, the Russians will see it. They will understand it.


The Russians I think the Russians almost can't believe what happened during the trip. Yeah. And I think even the Russians were a little wrong footed because what what Russians like is predictability and stability. Trump took them into places they didn't want to go. I wrote at the beginning of the Mueller investigation, this was not what the Russians wanted. They did not want their operations looked into by a bloodhound like like Robert Mueller. They did not want their operations uncovered and their connections revealed.


Trump has been a source of great fortune for them by basically letting them do whatever they want to do in the world. On the other hand, he also is you know, he's like the he's he's the friend at the party who drank too much and keeps babbling all the secrets that you didn't want to tell people. And so I think they will they are ready for a more predictable and stable relationship with the Americans. They know the candy store has been open for four years and they know that couldn't last forever.


And I think if the Biden people take an adult and firm approach and go to the Russians and say, look, we weren't in charge these last four years, we understand why you did what you did, maybe we even kind of get it that anybody would have taken advantage of this clown. But the party's over.


So I want to press you on one thing, because that the idea that and this is probably mostly, you know, a point of clarification for me, but the idea that the Russians want predictability and stability is counterintuitive to what I've been hearing, learning about their M.O., which is to to divide, to create chaos and confusion. And that's their preferred route to essentially gaining power, which in other places.


I see. OK, so for themselves, you mean and for their relations with the Americans.


You know, one of the things that I know happened early on in the Trump administration because I had friends who were talking with the Russians and and, you know, both in an informal kind of exchanges and more official capacities. And, you know, the Russians were always asking us the same question, who's in charge? Who do we talk to? You know, there are other things the Russians care about besides sowing chaos in the American democratic system and breaking up NATO.


I mean, I think Putin's overriding goal as a former Soviet guy, there's even a great Russian term. They call him a Savoonga Soviet. He's just a product of the system of the Soviet era. He would love to break up NATO. But in the meantime, the Russians, I'm sure, would like to keep the new START treaty. I think the Russians probably could have been wrangled better on the INF treaty, which they were trying to break as a way of intimidating Europeans.


But, you know, they they don't like being surprised. The Russians are. If you've ever been in a conference with Russians, there is no spontaneity. There is no free wheeling commentary. The Russians I mean, remember that line hunt for Red October. The Russians don't take a dump without a plan, son.


That's right. There is an element of truth in that. I mean, that they that even with their worst enemy, if you go back and look at the history of the Cold War, even even in trying to deal with Reagan or Nixon or Carter, you know, actually, I'll just detour in the Cold War history for their least favorite president was Jimmy Carter, whom they hated. They hated his guts. They were actually they were actually hoping that Reagan, the former ambassador to the United States serving the United States, said we were actually hoping Reagan would win because we could not imagine anything worse than Jimmy Carter.


And what they couldn't stand about Carter was that he was completely inconsistent. And if you think about this from a Mafia point of view, remember the Godfather, Mickey? It's just business. It's not personal. So when they would come to talk to Carter, they'd say, listen, we have this deal. We worked it out with Nixon. We talked about it with Ford. It's about nuclear weapons and bombers and missiles. And Carter would say, all right, I'm going to talk to you about arms control.


This must end this threat. But in the meantime, I want to talk to you about the way you're treating Jews and the way you treat human rights activists. And they were like, you know, like Carter would literally become. What about this guy that you have in prison right now? His name is Joe Blow.


And they were like, listen, we're here to talk nuclear weapons.


We don't need any Sunday school lecture on what the hell are you talking about? And finally, they would just get up and walk out, say we're not here to get lecture. Like at one point, literally, their foreign ministry said, listen, this guy is a criminal. He's in our system and you can go pick up a rope, basically. And so the Russians love this one term. There's an expression Russian, the LaVoy. It means business like they say.


We look like they used it with Nixon as a as a compliment. They said Nixon is Levoy. He's businesslike, and they were actually hoping that Reagan would be LaVoy. And Reagan, of course, turned out to be their worst nightmare. But at least they kind of you know, at once they got past those first few years and Gorbachev came in. They were actually able to sit down and talk turkey with them. They they don't they don't mind having enemies.


The Russians have a lot of enemies in the world. What they don't want to deal with are people who surprise them or drag them into situations that they did not themselves foresee. Right. And Trump is just like I said, when the Russians are sending messages to Americans saying, who's in charge in your country? Who do we talk to? How do we make this deal stick? Who speaks for the president? Who represents the State Department? How is this getting done?


You could you could sense a certain amount of anxiety there to say, you know, yeah, you know, we're screwing with your system and you guys are on flat on your backs and we're really enjoying that. But on the other hand, you do have the most powerful military in the world. You do have fifteen hundred nuclear weapons aimed at us as well. You know, and maybe just a little bit more predictability wouldn't be such a bad. I think they've squeezed the juice out of Trump and they're going to throw him away like the empty husk that he is.


They've gotten everything they can get out of them. And now I think the big danger is what has Trump learned as president that he's going to trade off in his private life afterwards? Because he is he has no sense of right or wrong. Yeah, he is, apparently. And he's a goldfish.


That's a perfect segue to something else I wanted to ask you, which is something we've talked about in this podcast before. But one of the things that jumped out at me in this story is that the last time the White House listed an intelligence briefing on Trump's daily schedule was in early October. So, you know, just just on a basic level, can you help our listeners understand why it's so critical for the president to have regular intelligence briefings? And how odd is it for there to be a stretch of almost three months where there's no listed intelligence briefing on the president's schedule?


I mean, speaking of things that he has learned as president, but what do you think he has learned as president? Does Donald Trump learn, first of all? No.


And I you know, I think actually it's been a good if you're telling me the president hasn't he hasn't had an intelligence briefing in three months, that actually is good. Means he doesn't have the most up to date and anything. Let's let's remember, he doesn't have a real good grip on facts. His memory isn't exactly razor-sharp. So the less he knows on his way out the door is probably the better. Because as I said at the beginning of his administration, one thing we know and again, we know this from people who worked with him in private industry, and I heard this directly from people who had worked with him in the transition.


He is unbreathable. He cannot be briefed. I've done briefings for. Politicians, I've done briefings for one politician, groups of politicians, and the way a briefing goes is the briefer comes in and says good morning and then tells them things and then they ask questions. The way Trump's briefings went is they walk in and he talks. That's not a briefing. I'm serious that somebody who who did a briefing with him when he was in transitioning in the transition and it was.


It was a foreign policy related brief and apparently a very senior person in the room stopped him and and put his hand on his arm and said. Mr. President elect, you have to listen to this. This is actually important, like had to literally stop him from talking so that the briefer could tell him all this highly sensitive stuff. I didn't actually think it was right after he came and said, Mr. President, you have to listen to this. This is actually important in twenty seventeen.


And so he's unbreathable and there's no point briefing him and just inundating him with classified material if he cannot assemble those facts or make any sense of them. And, you know, from the reporting in The Washington Post, New York Times and other places, it's been very clear that they've had to dumb down the briefings basically to the level of sock puppets as it is. I mean, he does not absorb written material or full charts. And, you know, you're right, Sesame Street, today's briefings brought to you by the letter are for Russia.


You know, so he he he can't he's I mean, I say this not as a never Trump Lincoln project partisan. When I say this as an observer, as a political scientist, I think he's the most palpably stupid human being able to sit in the Oval Office. I Fran Lebowitz, his words keep ringing in my ears. You don't know anyone as stupid as Donald Trump. You just don't. And I think that has been clear. You know, there are presidents that are Ronald Reagan was an attentive John F.


Kennedy was educated, but not particularly industrious. George W. Bush ran everything like a Harvard Business School kind of meeting. Every president's had their flaws about these kinds of briefings. I don't think we've ever encountered a president who is just too stupid to understand any of the material he's being told now to back up.


But that makes them more dangerous. If I was just going to say right. And that means that policy is being made in a complete vacuum of information because the president is just too stupid to understand anything going on around. So you can look at it one of two ways. You could say it is incredibly dangerous. But the president is not getting intelligence briefings because to make coherent policy, the president needs up to the minute intelligence. The other side of that is he doesn't understand it.


He doesn't listen to it. He is not interested in policy. And we are functionally without a president right now. The only thing Donald Trump does is plot against American democracy to try and stay in office. He's not actually running anything. Right. And so I suppose you could argue as long as Mike Pompeo or whoever the sec def is in the last ten minutes as he's plowing through appointees, as long as they're getting up to the minute intelligence and they've got a steady hand on the tiller, then you we'll muddle through, I guess, in the Christmas season.


We'll muddle through somehow. Right. But that's a hell of a way to run a superpower.


So this gets to this gets to what we were talking about a little bit ago about what he could do with what he knows, maybe not learned, but what he has picked up along the way. And we get this question actually all the time from listeners. So so I'd love for you to talk a little bit more about it. Obviously, former presidents are still entitled to receive classified intelligence on major foreign policy issues. But as as we've mentioned before, we've consistently seen Trump prioritize Putin's interest over the US's interests.


So what safeguards are in place if there are any you know, what's to stop Trump from sharing or even selling classified information to foreign governments once he leaves office? Is this something that we should understandably be afraid of?


Yes. First of all, former presidents are not entitled to intelligence briefings. That's a courtesy. The former presidents have no status other than as private citizens. Now, by law, they're allowed to have certain things like Secret Service protection, because we are a decent and humane country and we don't put our presidents out on the street in a country with three hundred million guns. You know, that that that is perfectly sensible. But I would not I would if I were the Biden administration, I would discontinue this with Trump immediately.


First of all, he has earned no goodwill in terms of courtesies to a former president. You should get what the law allows and nothing more. He should be given in briefings that are related to his own safety. I think the FBI, if the president Biden should allow law enforcement and the national intelligence services to say, of course, you could talk to Donald Trump about, you know, if we have any indication of threats or concerns about his safety.


Absolutely. Donald Trump's Donald Trump is a former president of the United States. He should be he should be able to collect his pension and be looked after. And protected because we are a decent country. I know there are people out there already bristling at this and saying the hell with him, put them on the street, let him take his chances. No, we're not that kind of country. This is not this is not some banana republic where we throw the guy.


He whatever else he was, he was president of the United States. I personally don't ever intend on giving him the courtesy of referring to him as President Trump ever again. You know, there used to be in the old days when people read etiquette guides, it is actually inappropriate to refer to a former president of the United States as Mr. President, you refer to the president is a temporary title because you are the presiding officer. If you watch C-SPAN, because we're all nerds and we do, right?


We are. So when people stand up in the Senate, they say, Mr. President, I rise today to speak to. And it always confuses people because they're not speaking to the United States. They're speaking to the presiding officer of the Senate. Madam President, I rise today, which rotates, by the way, we rotate president, presidents of the Senate.


And when when the presiding officer steps off the Senate podium there back to being senator. Right. And so if you really want to play this game, the appropriate way to refer to Bill Clinton is Governor Clinton. That's his lifetime title with George H.W. Bush. You could have called him Ambassador Bush, Governor Governor George W. Bush. You there's Senator Obama. Right. But we do this as a mark of respect to say you once held the greatest title, my old boss, Richard Nixon on Twitter, something people just can't seem to figure out, which delights me to no end.


Know, I always refer to on Twitter as Mr. President or Mr. Nixon. If people want to do that as a mark of respect, that's fine. But I think Donald Trump has not earned any of those courtesies. He certainly has not earned the courtesy of being of sharing secrets with him that he has shown unable to keep, even when it was his constitutional duty to do so. Absolutely not. Before I let you go, Tom. What's your favorite story from winning Jeopardy!


So somebody times or maybe maybe a better question is like, what is what was the what was what was the toughest question? Well, I'll tell you two quick stories, one. One is one that I did reveal in an interview some years later back in the day they used to introduce you when you would walk out. Now, today, if you watch Jeopardy, you're already at the podium. They save a little time because they used to do a professor originally from Chicopee, Massachusetts.


And you'd walk out, right? Take your. So the three of us would be standing in the dark backstage waiting for the show to begin. And I had already and itinerary plastered to two rounds of opponents. So it's going into my third game. And this would be this very nice lady. And I don't this isn't personal, just business. But she turns to me just before we walk and she says, look, you don't want to beat me in front of my eight year old daughter.


Oh, my gosh.


I had I was newly married. I was just married to my first wife back 30 years, almost 30 years ago. And I said, what? I said, You don't want to beat me in front of my new wife, do you? My daughter, your daughter will always love you. My wife will leave.


And this woman just stared at me with, like a frozen expression on her face and she said nothing else and turned around. And the three of us went out there.


And then I beat the beat the pants off of both.


The other was that the the the miraculous question that saved my bacon in the I think in the third, second or third game.


But I was I was behind. And of course you can win in final jeopardy if you pull it out and get it right, your opponents get it wrong and everybody has to wager everything and come out of third and win. Right. And the question was the category was US history, which was the tip off. And the question was British actress Laura Kean first came to America in the 50s and was best known for her starring role in this play. And we all I mean, I'm standing right next the other two people and we're all going to like what, British?


And then I suddenly it suddenly occurred to me the category is US history. There are only two plays in US history in the 18th 60s and nobody would ever care about one. My opponents both said Uncle Tom's Cabin, British actress. I realized there were they were clueing us because Jeopardy is all about riddles. The answer is always buried in there. They're calling us into our American cousin, which was the play Lincoln was watching when shot. Oh, my gosh.


And I said, I can't be anything else. It's got to be our American cousin. I come out of third place, I win the game. I'm not the the to keep going. And Alex, of all people, one of the guy next to me says, Tom, that was really great. You know, my fellow player and Alex, who normally doesn't chat a lot, he's he's very he was God rest his soul. He was very Canadian, not the most effusive guy in the world.


He leans over and says, yeah, how did you know that?


I was like a little put off. You know, I was like, I don't know, because I'm way smarter than, you know.


And he but he likes. Yeah. How did you know that? I'm like, you just saw me tear through three games.


You mean how did I get here, you know, where's the love bro. So those were my two favorite jeopardy.


Truthfully, the rest of it was a blur. The fastest. Twenty eight minutes of your life. It just goes by. I was still a smoker in those days till we shot five shows in one day. And all I remember was running upstairs to go out on the balcony at Sony, which was still in Hollywood at the time, smoking a cigarette, changing my clothes, running back downstairs. Yeah. By the end of it, I was totally fried.


That's too call, and it was about Lincoln, that's a person, and that's the perfect place to go out. Tom, where can people find you? I think they should follow you on Twitter because you're great on Twitter.


On the Internet, you can find me at Radio Free Time. And if you want to drop me a line of a death of expertise at Gmail dot com. Terrific. Tom, thanks so much for being on with us today. Thanks, Ron. It's great to get to you. Absolutely. Thanks to Tom for making the time today and thanks to all of you at home for listening, as always, we'd love to hear from you about what questions you have and what topics like his to cover on the podcast.


You can reach us, as always, a podcast at Lincoln Project U.S. And please know that even when we don't respond, we read every email we get and we appreciate hearing from you. You can find more information about our movement at Lincoln Project US. If you enjoyed the show, it would help us if you could rate and reviews wherever you get your podcasts. This really does help new people find the show and join our movement to defeat Trump ism. I'm Ron Suslow.


I'll see you in the next episode.