Joe Rogan | The Morality of CIA Assassins w/Annie Jacobsen

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the Joe Rogan experience morality talk
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to me about morality or talk about why
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we can’t talk about certain things well
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while we’re what you were saying before
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about being a competitor the United
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States is competitive obviously and when
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you’re playing the ultimate game which
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is war you have to be very careful about
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what you reveal and what you don’t
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reveal and this is where the
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conversation about surprise kill vanish
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comes in because the CIA using these
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covert operations to assassinate people
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and whether or not that should be
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allowed or not allowed whether it’s good
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or bad whether it’s necessary whether
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it’s like if you want people to be safe
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over here there’s certain people you got
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to take out and sometimes you just can’t
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follow the rules and why why are we not
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supposed to know about that should we
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know about that the way the story
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started for me I’m at my house in 2009 a
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source is you know calls me up he says
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I’m on my way back from the Middle East
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gonna pop by the house and say hi he
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brings me a challenge coin that says
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Kabul Afghanistan State Department I’m
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thinking okay he is not a diplomat I
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mean he’s weapons trained at the time my
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boys were young there are lots of GI
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Joes in the garden and they had little
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weapons right and the source is showing
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them about the weapons and they’re like
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so into it cuz they know he’s military
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trained and then he says if it’s okay
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with your mom and dad I’ll show you some
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weapons the boys are like please so he
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sets up this sniper rifle in the living
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room and I live up in the hills and you
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can look across the canyon through this
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scope he set up and I can see the veins
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on a leaf
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across the canyon and I thought okay so
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now I know what he was doing in Kabul
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Afghanistan he’s taking out al Qaeda
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with this mm-hmm
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there’s another case on the ground that
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he never opens and when the boys go off
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I say to him what’s in that and he said
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he opens it up and inside there’s a
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knife and it’s serrated and I said
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what’s that for
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immediately realizing you know my
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naivete and he says to me sometimes a
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job requires quiet so why that became
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interesting
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to me was because of my own thoughts and
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perceptions about what he had told me in
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other words I could I could deal with
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him with a sniper rifle
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I could me like okay that’s what he does
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but the knife gave me pause I was like
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is he slitting someone’s throat is it in
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the ribs and I thought why is it that I
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am willing to accept sort of the
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clinical nature of of a sniper rifle but
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I can’t I’m uncomfortable with that
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close-up hand-to-hand killing and that
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led me to surprise kill vanish because
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that was the motto of the precursor
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agency of the CIA it was called the OSS
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the Office of Strategic Services their
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motto was surprise kill vanish because
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they would jump out of aircraft land
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work with their French partners and kill
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Nazis with a you know a knife to the
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throat and I thought okay that’s
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considered okay because they were Nazis
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right but we can’t we’re not supposed to
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do that anymore
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in this world we live in why and I spent
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the whole this whole book researching
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and reporting is about that sort of
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conundrum if you will that moral puzzle
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you know why do we why do we
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differentiate you know and who are they
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willing to do that to where do they draw
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that line like I’m sure you’re aware of
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the story of Jamal khashoggi the
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journalist who was assassinated by
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someone some group of people and that
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they entered into the Turkish embassy
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and they whacked him and chopped him up
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and carried him out in boxes and it’s an
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international it was a huge incident
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right this supposedly was ordered by who
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was it supposed to order by the head of
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Saudi Arabia yeah MBS Mohammed bin
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Salman I mean that’s the idea is that
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their head of state wanted him killed
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because he was a threat because he was a
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reporter because he’s writing some
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things yeah and that they this is how
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they did it yeah I mean and there’s
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that’s a great question because what
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yours
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like okay so but we all think of that as
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reprehensible right right right
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why you know cuz cuz he’s a journalist
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on our side he’s delivering information
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to people but the government of Saudi
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Arabia disagree they like that
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information is our information he’s a
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threat by releasing it yes he’s a threat
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to our livelihood yes yeah and who
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decides who’s a threat I mean a lot of
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this book is about who’s on the kill
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list right I mean there is an actual
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killers they’re always husband and the
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euphemisms involved I mean I write
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history as I said so Eisenhower called
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his assassination program health
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alteration
I mean literally in the
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declassified documents the Solaris
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health all three she had a health
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alteration committee whoa Kennedy had an
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executive action committee that’s also
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cleaner all right
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guess what Reagan’s was called super
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Wonder Boy power up close pre-emptive
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neutralization preemptive neutralization
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Wow why do they keep switching the names
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for it they’re burying the information
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right and they keep switching around the
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they switch around who has authority to
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you know say yes let’s go ahead and put
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this guy on the kill list I mean that
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was fascinating I mean I interviewed a
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guy named John Rizzo who was a
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decades-long CIA attorney I was stunned
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that he was willing to talk to me and he
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explained to me how a presidential
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finding also called a memorandum of
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notification works that gives the
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president the authority to put an
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individual on the kill list that job is
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then given to the CIA’s paramilitary
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army an operator or their assassins
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because the CIA works under a code
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called title 50 of so it makes it legal
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whereas the Defense Department works
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under what’s called title 10 so in other
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words and they can’t their rules of
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engagement are totally different so the
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misnomer is like oh the SEALs killed bin
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Laden well they were seals trained but
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that was a CIA mission
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hmm because Pakistan is a sovereign
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nation and the military can’t kill
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people in countries were not at war with
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so those guys all became essentially CIA
operators for the night whoa right and
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if you look at photographs as I have
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seen you’ll notice that they have no
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markings on their outfits so that if the
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job went south it’d be like I don’t know
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who these guys are and if you look back
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at Vietnam photos of the Mac V SOG teams
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which I also write about in surprise
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kill vanish because that’s the precursor
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of that you see no markings right that
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way you can go into you can go behind
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enemy lines you can go into Laos you
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know in the Vietnam War you can go now
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you can go into Pakistan what I learned
reporting this book is we’re in a
hundred and thirty four countries doing
title 50 operations think about that
government wants that to be kept secret
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so in all those countries they’re doing
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things that don’t fall under the normal
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letter of the law not yes not under the
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rules of engagement of the military but
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the CIA works at the president’s behest
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that that was one thing that really blew
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my mind to report to research to
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understand
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I talked to forty two guys who have
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direct access to this who are in this
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world you know from the knuckle draggers
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on the ground as they call themselves to
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the lawyer at CIA senior intelligence
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staff that’s the equivalent of a general
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at the CIA
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those guys explaining to me Annie this
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is how it works you know and again to
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your question well why why does someone
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get to know that and why does the
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government want why do they allow that
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information out is super interesting and
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I believe that has to do with a certain
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climate we’re in right now about
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military might right in other words what
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the CIA does is called tercio up do it’s
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the third option you’ve got the first
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option is diplomacy second option is war
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so if diplomacy is not working
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and war is unwise you go to the third
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option which is the CIA’s paramilitary
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and they’re in a hundred and how many
country 134 do you well if you wonder
why the military budgets so big that’s
what it is folks kind of feed those
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folks what work I mean what happened and
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you as a competitor would be fascinated
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by the kind of training they do and what
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they do I mean so many of these
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infiltration techniques are
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mind-boggling you know they’ve got halo
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jumping which you know about right where
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they high altitude low opening so they
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jump out they you know freefall down
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terminal velocity pull the ripcord
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really low so they’re not detected by
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radar and then they meet up with a team
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on the ground and go do what they do
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then they also have hey-ho which is high
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altitude high opening and that way you
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can fly over airspace where we’re
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allowed and float into let’s say a
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country like Iran and land gather your
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team and do what you have to do hmm but
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like so much of what I report I get
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information like that and then I ask a
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million questions like you’ve asking me
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and it’s like can’t talk about that
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that’s classified hmm you don’t you
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you’re a journalist so you’re trying not
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to judge mm-hmm but is it your belief
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that this is a good thing for America
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meaning having a third option
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whoa I mean I write in the book that
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that’s in the prologue after I tell that
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story about the source with a knife I
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say I wanted to know in that exact
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question like is this a good thing and
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my answer at the end after it’s complex
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not to be vague but it is really complex
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is also that well if you’re gonna take
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that pole position you must accept
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rivalry right mm-hmm and also after talk
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do I think it’s a good thing after
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talking to a lot of 20-year old soldiers
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who come back from the war theater miss
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limb with intense PTSD and who
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essentially serve as cannon fodder I
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would say my opinion right for the
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Pentagon that’s the second option or the
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42 guys that I interviewed you know
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they’re like send me they are a
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professional they are Tier one operators
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they’re Green Berets they’re seals their
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Delta they retire they join the CIA yeah
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so they’re like professionals at what
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they do
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and they’re saying I want someone has to
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do this job we’ve been doing this since
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the end of World War two I want to do it
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so do I think it’s better I mean I think
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that that concept speaks to choice right
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because I’m not so sure that the 20 year
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olds know what they’re in for
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and the 40 year olds know what they’re
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in for and are willing to do it so that
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well also the difference between a
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specialized trained individual with a
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very specific task versus someone who is
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sort of following orders and at the
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front of the line yeah right I mean and
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also has a you know a lot of times I
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talk to these young kids who go to war
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and they tell me one of the fascinating
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detail is that they talk about movies
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that they see and whether it’s Saving
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Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down even
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right where the outcome is not
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necessarily great but they talk about
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the romanticization of war and of
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camaraderie and a brotherhood that comes
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from that and then they have their
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experience and some of that does give
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them that sense but not always whereas
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the operators are much more about you
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know getting the job done that’s what I
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was fascinated by I mean these guys are
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really clear they’re their competitors
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they’re like top tier competitors they
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have a job they do it they get it done
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and they ask for the next job so is the
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oversight when it comes to choosing
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whether or not this operation takes
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place or not is it
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do they have moral guidelines do they
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have ethical or moral guidelines where
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they say like this is the president is
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requesting that this person get taken
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out the Chiefs of Staff whoever it is is
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that did they have to make a an ethical
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distinction you mean or they like kill
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him nicely like don’t make it over this
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do they decide like does this make sense
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or like what if the president is like
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Rosie O’Donnell she’s been talking shit
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take her out you know
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well I mean that’s you know that’s a big
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issue but what I try to write in some
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what I try to report in surprise kill
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vanish is the idea that the people we
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take out may be our bad guys right one
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one guy write about his che guevara okay
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because che is often portrayed in the
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press as you know this amazing hero and
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that he and we you know I don’t know if
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you know but he was he was killed by the
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Bolivian Rangers but it was a CIA
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operation and I interview the man in
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charge of that operation in Surprise Cal
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vanished his name was Felix Rodriguez ok
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long-serving CIA paramilitary officer so
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but I also report why the President to
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your question wanted Che Guevara dead
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you know he was really advocating for
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nuclear war and I and I shared it yes I
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mean he spoke publicly about you know if
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if we have to have an atomic war the
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Cuban but paraphrasing the Cuban people
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will be happy to have sacrificed
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themselves that I mean che was also che
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killed anyone who betrayed him he killed
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he writes about it in his Diaries as I
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write in the book right so but on the
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morality question who decides I don’t
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have that answer but I will tell you
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what I did I went with my main source
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Billy hua who he’s a 89 now and he was
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he’s been with the CIA for 60 years
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okay I mean he went and he and I went to
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Cuba for him to do a halo jump with Che
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Guevara son so we were a guest of the
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man whose father was killed by the CIA
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okay and we had this really interesting
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discussion in the cigar club where che
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and Castro you know smoke cigars and
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plotted the downfall of the United
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States and that’s what I try to give
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readers a sense of the long lens of
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history how time changes all things and
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maybe leave with them them with this
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idea which they can come to their own
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conclusions about what you asked me of
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is it right or is it wrong because
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really what you might ask is is it
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necessary mmm right I mean I could
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moralize right wrong but it would just
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be my opinion but when you see I went
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Billy wall and I also try out travel to
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Vietnam because he was supposed to kill
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he was tasked to kill the top commander
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of the North Vietnamese Army a guy named
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general shop and law didn’t kill shop
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and we had this incredibly this terrible
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mission that went awry that I write
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about in the book in the Vietnam War so
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50 years later while and I go to visit
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the son of general giap are sitting
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there in shops home talking about these
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same issues right and my conclusion of
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that again is not is it right or wrong
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but is it necessary I mean we have these
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wars we keep having these wars is it
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necessary yeah what do you think well I
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mean my opinion is that the Defense
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Department is far too concerned with
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vast weapons systems of the future which
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is its mission statement of its science
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department and so you create what some
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at the Pentagon call a self licking ice
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cream cone or the military-industrial
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complex and there’s a lot built into
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that there’s a lot to be said about
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[Applause]

Michèle Flournoy

Michèle Flournoy is Co-Founder and Managing Partner of WestExec Advisors, and former Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), where she currently serves on the board.

Michèle served as the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy from February 2009 to February 2012. She was the principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense in the formulation of national security and defense policy, oversight of military plans and operations, and in National Security Council deliberations. She led the development of the Department of Defense’s 2012 Strategic Guidance and represented the Department in dozens of foreign engagements, in the media and before Congress.

Prior to confirmation, Michèle co-led President Obama’s transition team at the Defense Department.

In January 2007, Michèle co-founded CNAS, a bipartisan think tank dedicated to developing strong, pragmatic and principled national security policies. She served as CNAS’ President until 2009, and returned as CEO in 2014. In 2017, she co-founded WestExec Advisors, a strategic advisory firm.

Previously, she was senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies for several years and, prior to that, a distinguished research professor at the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University (NDU).

In the mid-1990s, she served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Threat Reduction and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy.

Michèle is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including: the American Red Cross Exceptional Service Award in 2016; the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service in 1998, 2011, and 2012; the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Joint Distinguished Civilian Service Award in 2000 and 2012; the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service in 1996; and CARE’s Global Peace, Development and Security Award in 2019. She has edited several books and authored dozens of reports and articles on a broad range of defense and national security issues. Michèle appears frequently in national and international media, including CNN’s State of the Union, ABC’s This Week, NBC’s Meet the Press, BBC News, NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered and PBS’ News Hour, and is frequently quoted in top tier newspapers.

Michèle serves on the boards of

  • Booz Allen Hamilton,
  • Amida Technology Solutions,
  • The Mission Continues,
  • Spirit of America,
  • The U.S. Naval Academy Foundation,
  • CARE, and sits on the Honorary Advisory Committee of
  • The Leadership Council for Women in National Security. Michèle is also a former member of the
  • President’s Intelligence Advisory Board,
  • the CIA Director’s External Advisory Board, and the
  • Defense Policy Board, and is currently a member of the
  • Council on Foreign Relations and the
  • Aspen Strategy Group, and is a
  • Senior Fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Michèle earned a bachelor’s degree in social studies from Harvard University and a master’s degree in international relations from Balliol College, Oxford University, where she was a Newton-Tatum scholar.

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