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Transcript: Jim Sciutto talks with Michael Morell on "Intelligence Matters"

CBS NEWS - WASHINGTON BUREAU
INTELLIGENCE MATTERS - JIM SCIUTTO
CORRESPONDENT: MICHAEL MORELL
PRODUCERS: OLIVIA GAZIS, JAMIE BENSON

Listen to this episode on Stitcher

MICHAEL MORELL: Jim, thanks for joining us today. It is great to have you on the show.

JIM SCIUTTO:
Really appreciate the opportunity.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, Jim, your book, The Shadow War: Inside Russia and China's Secret Operations to Defeat America, that was published a couple months ago. So, congratulations on that.
JIM SCIUTTO:
Thank you.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And I want to spend a lot of time talking about it. But before we do that, I want to ask you about your service at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. You're a career journalist. So, how did you end up working for the U.S. Ambassador to Beijing?
JIM SCIUTTO:
This was one of those opportunities that came my way unsolicited but, when it came, I just felt couldn't turn down the opportunity. Just too much of a learning opportunity. And I'll tell you, I was at the White House Correspondents Dinner. This was in 2011. Happened to be the night of the bin Laden raid. No connection.

But I found myself seated next to the incoming ambassador to China, Gary Locke. And I'd had a history of interest in studying China. And so, he and I ended up talking the whole evening about China. And then that led to a dinner and a lunch and a dinner. And then in those conversations, he came around to saying he could bring one person with him to China and he was looking for someone kind of outside the box, not a typical person from inside government, and asked me if I'd be interested. And I hadn't thought in those terms. But I thought here was an opportunity to be inside the U.S./China relationship at a critical time. My next question was to my wife, and she was willing. And then once she was, we decided to go.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah. So, what did you learn about the relationship, about the U.S. government, from being on the inside, as opposed to being on the outside, looking in?
JIM SCIUTTO:
Well, I think from the outside, particularly as a journalist, you can have an impression at times that folks, if they don't know everything, they know so much, right. You have these enormous resources of intelligence and, you know, just the reach of the State Department and access to information. And they do know a lot.

But at the end of the day, you have people working with incomplete information, making the best decisions they can. You know that better than me. And trying to figure out how to make things happen. So, that was helpful. You know, as I cover -- and for most of my career, I've covered -- government and the intelligence agencies, State Department, et cetera, so it gives you a sense of how they operate, you know. They're doing their best, right, like all of us. They're doing their best with imperfect information. Don't always make the right decisions; sometimes, you know, make wrong decisions.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Sure.
JIM SCIUTTO:
But they do their best to get to the right place.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, did you have access to intelligence?
JIM SCIUTTO:
I did. I had a security clearance. You know, top secret, SCI, I did, which was-- listen, that was a privilege--

MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah, and what was your sense as a journalist, right, of seeing that? How much value did it add to your understanding vice what was available in open sources?
JIM SCIUTTO:
First of all, it's a privilege to do that. It's something you respect, as you know. You learn a lot. But again, you realize that it doesn't tell you everything; that you have tremendous resources, information, and then you have analysts doing their best to connect the dots.

And it doesn't necessarily give you a perfect answer. And this is something when I cover intelligence, a whole host of stories, I always try to make this point on the air that, you know, intelligence is not some sort of magic, silver bullet. It's not a crystal ball, right.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Right.
JIM SCIUTTO:
It is a lot of information and folks make decisions. And in those reports -- again, as you know better than me -- oftentimes, they'll say here's what we know, here's what we don't know, and here's our best guess.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Okay, the book, which I think is terrific and I think everybody should read it. Why did you write it? Why did you choose to focus on this particular topic?
JIM SCIUTTO:
I'll tell you, as a journalist, through 20, 25-some-odd years of covering China and Russia, and being on the ground in places where the U.S. interacts with China and Russia, it struck me that we look at this relationship in, you know, one front at a time, as it were -- at least we in the public sphere and journalists -- and don't connect dots as to how this whole relationship is coming together, and that folks know about the election interference.

They might know a bit about Russia's annexation of Crimea, so on, or China's manufacture of islands in the South China Sea. They hear about, you know, Russian bombers buzzing Alaska, or ships, et cetera, and look at them in general and don't connect the dots that, actually, this is a strategy for confronting the U.S., for trying to level the playing field with the U.S., undermine the U.S. where it can.

Beyond that, what was interesting to me was that China and Russia, two very different countries, two different histories, geographies, languages, you name it, seem to have struck upon a very similar way of countering the U.S. And in fact, it's not a secret strategy. It's written in their documents, you know. We've come to call the Russian approach the Gerasimov Doctrine. This kind of hybrid warfare approach to countering the U.S. Chinese have a different name for it: Winning without fighting. You know, confronting the U.S., getting what you want, undermining where you can, but below the threshold of a shooting war. And that's the shadow war.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah, so that's the definition of a shadow war?
JIM SCIUTTO:
Yes.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Okay. So, have we seen shadow wars before in history? Or is this a relatively new concept? And if it's new, why now?
JIM SCIUTTO:
It's my impression that it is relatively new. I mean, shadow war tactics, individually, are not entirely new. There have been influence operations through the years, going back to Soviet times. There's been election interference. There have been, you know, small conflicts, short of all-out war, with the intention of territorial gain; all that kind of stuff.

What struck me is that, you know, bringing these all together, particularly with technologies, is new. Part of it's a product of a single superpower kind of world, is that Russia and China know they can't beat us head to head in a shooting conflict. So, here's a way. You know, ultimately, it's asymmetric warfare, right--
MICHAEL MORELL:
Right, right, right, right.
JIM SCIUTTO:
--from two very formidable adversaries. But ultimately, it's asymmetric. And it's aided by new technologies. You know, the Russians, of course, have interfered in past elections. Cyber capabilities super charged that, right. Then there are other elements of this which I think a lot of Americans just aren't aware about.

And one that I'm particularly fascinated with is the space element, is that, you know, we've become more dependent on space; people are generally aware of that. But they don't know that Russia and China have space weapons deployed right now, with the intention of being able to blind us, weaken our capabilities militarily and even in the civilian sphere, in the event of a all-out war, but even short of that.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah. So, maybe we've seen elements of shadow wars before, but now it's come together as an actual strategy. Maybe that's what's new--
JIM SCIUTTO:
Yes, yes, exactly.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, you just said something really important, is that most Americans don't understand this, right. Why not?
JIM SCIUTTO:
Because frankly, our leaders aren't talking about it that way, right. They're not connecting the dots for them. And that's at the very top. It's even on Capitol Hill. You hear pieces of this. I mean, the president's certainly talking about a trade aspect of this. The president talks about the theft of private sector and national security secrets, which is-- I got a whole chapter in the book on that, too.

That is part of the shadow war. Again, it's a way to level the playing field; steal our most sensitive secrets. But connecting it into a bigger picture is something that you just don't see. Now, if you talk to folks in the intelligence agencies, in the national security sphere, they're beginning to think in this way; the national defense strategy. They talk a lot about these capabilities. But the American people don't hear it sufficiently.

You know, you asked me earlier why I wrote the book. One is seeing these patterns and trying to draw attention to them. But the other piece is just I'm an American, you know. I spent a lot of time in these countries, covering these countries, and I do it driven by a sense of public service that I feel I don't do with any political motivation whatsoever. If you read the book, you see that I spread the blame around a bit for the slowness among American leaders, officials, et cetera, to see this happening. It's not a political issue; it's an American issue.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Okay. So, China and Russia, the two antagonists. What I'd love to do is take them one at a time. And so, let's start with China. How is China specifically waging a shadow war? What tools are they using? What battlefields are they choosing?
JIM SCIUTTO:
Okay. Let's take it through. One, theft of our deepest secrets. It's certainly true in the private sector sphere. I mean, this is one of the essential issues of the trade war, right, is that U.S. companies, when they operate in China, first of all, they don't have the same access that we give Chinese companies; but also, Chinese companies up and steal their intellectual property.

They do it every day. Sometimes that's part of the agreement. Sometimes they just up and steal it. Beyond that, China is waging a very successful cyber campaign to steal our national security secrets. I focus on just one man in the book, a guy named Su Bin, who, over the course of four years, with two partners in China, stole hundreds of gigabytes of data on three of America's most advanced military aircraft: the F-35, the F-22, and the C-17. And folks in the Pentagon will know that China's flying three planes that look a lot like the F-35, the F-22, and the C-17--
MICHAEL MORELL:
They look a lot like it; yes, they do--
JIM SCIUTTO:
And you know this better than me--
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah, yeah.
JIM SCIUTTO:
And I interview in the book, Bob Anderson, who used to be in charge of the FBI's counterintelligence efforts. And I asked him what percentage of Chinese operations like this is the FBI aware of, and he said, if we're lucky, one in ten; 10%.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Wow.
JIM SCIUTTO:
So, for every Su Bin, you made the point-- and they caught Su Bin. Granted, after four years. He's currently in prison. They did catch him but he did a lotta damage before then. For every Su Bin, there are nine others who -- that we might not know about.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah, okay, so thousands--
JIM SCIUTTO:
Yeah, so that's one front, theft. Space. China has, today, floating at low earth orbit, medium earth orbit, and up to geostationary orbit, satellites that China claims are maintenance satellites or friendly objects in space, but that U.S. Space Command, and I spent a lot of time at Space Command for the purpose of this book, views as, at a minimum, dual-use technologies.

But satellites that are weapons, in effect, that can either blind our satellites with directed energy weapons-- I always tell people, there are already lasers in space. They could ram them, old school, just blow them into smithereens. But China also, in the last couple of years-- U.S. Space Command discovered them testing and deploying a satellite with a grappling arm that has the capability of lifting another satellite out of orbit.

Now, the Chinese say, 'Well, we have got repair our satellite. What better way to fix it?' (LAUGH) U.S. is not so certain of that. And they've seen China test this capability right up to geostationary orbit. That's 22,000 miles up. To do that requires tremendous technology, situational awareness in space, et cetera. The U.S. is concerned about space.

And China knows we have a tremendous advantage in space, particularly militarily. So, that's a good place to try to take us down. Then, submarine technology; China making big advances. Russia as well. But China has diesel electric submarines that are very quiet. One of them popped up in the midst of a U.S. carrier group couple of years ago; scared the bejesus out of them.

Because when you don't know where a sub is, that allows that power to project nuclear power right up to your shoreline. And then the final point I'll make is, old school, 19th century -- as President Obama called it -- territorial acquisition. Although, China, putting a new twist on it, in the South China Sea, just up and manufactured, you know, a territory which has since been militarized.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Right. So, what's the motivation on the part of the Chinese? What are they trying to achieve here?
JIM SCIUTTO:
Big picture, long-term, to up and surpass the U.S. as the most dominant global superpower. It's been in their documents, in their strategies, going back to 1949. Michael Pillsbury wrote a book about this: The Hundred-Year Marathon. And they write about it. So, this is about retaining or getting back what they see--
MICHAEL MORELL:
Getting back, right.
JIM SCIUTTO:
--as their rightful place at the top of the world. The middle kingdom at the back of, you know, the middle of the universe. So, that's part of it--
MICHAEL MORELL:
With every other country being its vassal?
JIM SCIUTTO:
Exactly. And there's a lot of history. There's a lot of politics and nationalism behind that; a sense of our position having been stolen away by the West and we're going to get it back, rightfully. That's a piece of it. On the other side, to at least make it a fight with the U.S. in the event of going to war.

You know, U.S. intelligence officials will say China doesn't want to go to war, and you'll hear that about Russia, too. But if they do, they want to be able to play on a level playing field. And those go together, you know. And they call the strategy winning without fighting. Ideally, they get what they want below the threshold of a shooting war. Again, that's the art of the shadow war. But if they have got go to a shooting war, they want to be ready to fight.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Is there a domestic political aspect to this?
JIM SCIUTTO:
In China?
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah.
JIM SCIUTTO:
Absolutely. You know, I always say that China is not a democracy but it has domestic politics. That factors into the whole trade war right now and that, you know, China is as loath not to be seen as backing down to the U.S. as the U.S. is--
MICHAEL MORELL:
Absolutely, absolutely.
JIM SCIUTTO:
--to China. So, this idea that Xi's suddenly going to buckle, you know, I think we should be skeptical of. But big picture, again, particularly when you speak to the Chinese today, and I spent a lot of time there-- I love the country. So many good friends there. There is, not far below the surface, a lot of pride and a lot of nationalism.

'This is our time,' you know. And again, the people share this sense that they had their rightful decision taken away. I will say that, generationally, it's concerning. Because when I was in China, when I would go to universities and meet with students, what struck me is the students were more nationalistic than their teachers. Because the students have only lived in a world where China is on the rise. And that should be concerning.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah, you know this long-term aspect that you talked about? I had dinner one night with four Chinese intelligence officers and they were talking about good and bad millennia. So, they were talking about this good 1,000 years, this bad 1,000 years, right, and we're focused on quarters.
JIM SCIUTTO:
Yeah.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Right?
JIM SCIUTTO:
Yup.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, Jim, one of the chapters in your book focuses on the South China Sea. And I think you give a really good, excellent history of the issue. How would you summarize what happened there for Americans who might not necessarily have followed it?
JIM SCIUTTO:
Okay. So, just for background, South China Sea, it's right in the middle of the most important shipping lanes in the world; 40% of world commerce goes through there. But also on top of what is perceived to be enormous natural resources. It's hundreds of miles from the Chinese coast. They claim it as their own, historically. And then you have half-a-dozen other countries who claim it, who are much closer, by the way--
MICHAEL MORELL:
It's great to actually see a map of their view--
JIM SCIUTTO:
It is, exactly.
MICHAEL MORELL:
--of the South China Sea, right.
JIM SCIUTTO:
Well, you got Vietnam. You have Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines -- treaty ally, the Philippines, by the way -- who all say that it's their territorial waters. And it is worth, if you're at home, just google a map of this because it's pretty darn far away from the Chinese coast.

And historically, they have a map you might hear referred to as the nine-dash line, where, a few decades ago, they just drew a line that kind of encompassed it on kind of dodgy historical basis. Anyway, you have a bunch of rocks down there. They're above the surface of the water, at low tide kind of thing, that, starting in 2014, though these areas were disputed, China just goes in there, starts building islands.

They start dredging up the dirt and piling the dirt on top, adding thousands and thousands of acres of land over the course of just a few months, claiming them as their own. And then over time, adding things like long runways and hardened hangars and surface-to-air missile sites. I had the opportunity, and I tell the story in the book, of flying on a U.S. surveillance plane over the South China Sea in May, 2015, a P-8, as it was flying over these islands, which is part of the U.S. strategy here.

Listen, we consider this international airspace. Therefore, we're going to keep flying over it. And we watched from up there as they were building this stuff. There were 20, 30-some-odd dredgers in each of those islands and they were making fast progress. Now, China gave an assurance to President Obama they would not militarize, and they broke that assurance. And now, China has what the navy sometimes refers to as a few unsinkable aircraft carriers in the South China Sea.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Okay, so let's shift to Russia. I'm going to ask you the same set of questions, okay. So, how are they waging the shadow war? What tools are they using? What battlefields are they choosing?
JIM SCIUTTO:
Okay. So, battlefields very similar to China's. So, one, certainly in cyberspace, election interference being the most prominent, but not the only one. And that's something that they did quite effectively in 2016, attempted again in 2018, and there is no question. It's not a question of if but how much Russia attempts to interfere in 2020 when you talk to anybody in that space--
MICHAEL MORELL:
It's going on right now.
JIM SCIUTTO:
And it's happening as we speak. And talk a lot about this in the book, that some of this is election focused, but a lot of it is permanent in that it's every day. You know, their intention is not just to influence the election itself, but to influence the political conversation in the U.S. and seek any division and exacerbate that division.

That's why they love to occupy spaces like Black Lives Matter, gun control, even Take a Knee. And Michael Hayden, I interviewed him for the book, he has a great story in there. And he's written about this more extensively, about, you know, it was obvious to U.S. intelligence when Russia started to get into the Take a Knee space, you know, of course, the protests in the NFL - taking a knee during the National Anthem - because they were often miswriting the hashtag.

Instead of 'take a knee,' they were saying take the knee. And Michael Hayden makes the point, you know, that articles are often the toughest thing to get right in foreign languages, and that's how they knew that those were-- was an easy way to spot that those were Russian trolls who were putting them in.

So, it's an ongoing influence game, influence campaign, by Russia in cyberspace. Russia also has weapons in space today, and the U.S. has watched them. They shadow sensitive U.S. commercial and surveillance satellites, circling them like a U-boat circling, you know, a freighter during World War II. They circle them up in space, testing these capabilities, both with the possibility of ramming and destroying satellites, or blinding them with directed energy weapons, et cetera. Submarines. I got to take a trip on a U.S. nuclear submarine under the Arctic where they were doing - and they do these every couple of years - the ICEX exercises.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Being a journalist is cool, right?
JIM SCIUTTO:
You know, it's funny. And particularly, you know, if you eat this stuff up like me. It's funny. I was on that sub under the Arctic on my birthday last year. And a lot of my colleagues were like, 'Oh, it's a shame you had to spend your birthday –' And I was like, 'You kiddin' me?' It was the best place I could imagine. And they made me a cake.

But, practicing up there in these exercises, tracking Russian subs in what is a new frontier in this, a new great game over influence in the Arctic. And what the commanders will say is that Russian subs are getting quieter and harder to detect. And like with China, although Russia's capabilities are more advanced, a submarine that's quieter and harder to detect could pop up off your coastline and, in the event of war, launch nuclear missiles.

So, there's a military competition. There's a cyber competition. There's a space competition. And then finally, there's old school, 19th century, land acquisition. Ukraine, you know. They up and stole a piece. Crimea, in 2014. They still occupy large parts of eastern Ukraine as well--
MICHAEL MORELL:
First land grab in Europe since World War II.
JIM SCIUTTO:
Exactly. And I tell folks all the time, because I think people think of the Ukraine as a million miles away. I was like, it's in Europe, you know. It was seeking closer cooperation with the E.U. And, you know, if Russia can do that there, where do they do it next? And that's the concern.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, their motivations, right, how does that compare to China's motivations?
JIM SCIUTTO:
So, big picture, Russia, and it struck me as interesting, driven by the same sense of regaining its rightful place in the world. Although, the theft of its rightful place is more recent. They go back to 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union. Their perception, you hear this a lot from Putin, that they were taken advantage of by the West, et cetera. So, getting back to being relevant again in the world, that's one piece.

You also have a sense that they're zero-sum game players. Any chance they get to stick their thumb in the U.S. eye is a win for them. There's a little bit of that. So, I think those two factors. What struck me is a connection between China and Russia in this sense, is that Chinese leaders study the fall of the Soviet Union intensely because that's a cautionary tale for them. You know, the CCP -- the Chinese Communist Party -- they're like, 'We're not going to be those guys. We have got to watch that we don't collapse the way they did.'
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, there was one chapter on Russia that I found particularly interesting, and that's a chapter on Estonia. What happened in Estonia in 2007?
JIM SCIUTTO:
So, this is the first chapter in the book. And I look at this something as the first salvo in the shadow war. I mean, of course, there were signs before. But in Estonia, in 2007, Russia launched really the first and the largest nation-on-nation cyberattack. It was a cyberattack intended to really shut down and cut off Estonia.

Estonia is this remarkable country right on Russia's border. Couple million people there, but extremely technologically advanced. I always remind people Skype started in Estonia. They got a pretty good track record. But they've also been way ahead of the curve on doing things digitally.

They voted digitally first. They banked digitally. You know, very dependent on this. So, around 2007, really ahead of the game for us, they're more dependent on these things than we were. And Russia launched a giant DDoS attack, in effect. They took over thousands, tens of thousands, of computers in more than 100 countries, created these big botnets that basically flooded Estonia with requests for information, shut down their news, government websites, banking websites, et cetera.

While, on the ground, they had kind of manufactured riots, you know, with ethnic Russians, you know, sort of expressing themselves. That kind of thing. Scared the bejesus out of the Estonians. Because I spoke to folks; spoke to the defense minister who was in charge at the time. Their concern was, 'Was this the preface to a land attack,' you know?

And they had a lot of reason to be concerned about that. But even short of that, it was enough where, eventually, Estonia, just to get back on its feet, had to turn off the switch and cut the country off. And it was a warning sign many years before, for instance, the interference in the 2016 election; many years before these kinds of attacks that we've come to see more often -- North Korea's attack on Sony and elsewhere -- but at a scale and with a skill that really was a warning of how far Russia was willing to go, and how powerful cyber capabilities could be.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, would you call it kind of the first shot in this shadow war--
JIM SCIUTTO:
I do, I do, and I don't want to be too-- you know, exaggerate, because there were aggressive acts prior to that, and aggressive statements by Putin. But in terms of a nation-on-nation attack, yes, in many ways, the first one.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, that's just a great transition I think to American awareness of the shadow war, right. You said earlier that you think we were slow to see this, slow to realize it as a government, as a country. Why?
JIM SCIUTTO:
I had the benefit in this book of speaking to a lot of current and former officials who were directly involved in the administrations, Republican and Democrat as this was happening; Jim Clapper, Michael Hayden, current head of Strategic Command, John Hyten, Ash Carter, former defense secretary, John Scarlett, used to head the MI6.

And what they said, self-critically in fact, was that they fell victim to mirroring with both Russia and China. Mirroring in that looking at Russia and China and saying that they want what we want. Welcome them into the international system. They will liberalize. They will democratize.

They will see. Russia will see, if you invite them into a partnership agreement with NATO, that this is good for all of us. When, in reality, they looked at that system and those organizations as skewed to our will and inherently skewed to our interests. And there was a lot of contradictory evidence through the years, even as leaders -- again, both parties -- and officials kept to that assumption. They had trouble kind of jettisoning that assumption, and they're doing so now. Ash Carter also makes the point that, by the way, we had 9/11 and we had two wars going on
-- which-- and your resources were focused elsewhere--
MICHAEL MORELL:
Exactly, exactly. So, Jim, now that we do recognize it, right, how would you characterize the American response so far?
JIM SCIUTTO:
It's coming together. It's not there yet. They're discussing strategies. At the military, national security level, you have the agencies and the departments beginning to respond. I spent time in the NSA for this. And you know, they are aggressively defending against cyberattacks. And under the Trump administration, you had a step forward; the president enabling Cyber Command to be little more forward-leaning in terms of offensive measures.

You know, planting cyber weapons that you could turn on, in effect, in the event of the need for retaliatory action. So, you have some moves in cyberspace. Still a debate underway about how to respond to the space threat. There are reasonable concerns about if you weaponize as well, do you create a new space arms race, and will that make things even worse.

But certainly, Space Command is thinking in defensive terms about hardening satellites. I spoke to officials who talked about kind of sending up the equivalent of carrier escorts with satellites to allow them to defend against these weapons. So, cyberspace. With submarines, there is an effort to bring more advanced submarines online more quickly to respond to this, to operate in places where you didn't have to for a while, but now, by the way, Russia and China are back there.

I mean, I remind people, one consequence of the Syria war is now Russia, again, has a naval base in the Mediterranean. They're operating in the Mediterranean. So, you have steps at that level. But what still hasn't happened is our leaders articulating a strategy across the board. But also I think making Americans aware of the nature of this conflict at this point.

And at each level, if you talk to the sub commanders, if you talk to the guys flying the spy planes, you talk to folks in the NSA ops center, they will say, to win this, you need a whole-of-government response. And that requires presidential leadership and that's something that they haven't heard yet. And it's not Obama administration officials who are saying that. It's the folks on the front line who are saying it.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Right, right, right. How do you think we're doing on managing that, and to what extent do you think the politics of Russian interference is getting in the way of us doing what we need to do to stop the political influence?
JIM SCIUTTO:
Enormously, because, we could just say it, it's a matter of public record, you have a president, commander-in-chief, who denies at times that the interference even took place, or at a minimum, that it's important. You know, we're an environment now where facts are partisan things.

And even national security issues have become extremely partisan things, because we know that the president-- his senior officials are told not to bring up election interference with him. He makes it an automatic association with his victory. But that then gets to resources being directed at defense. And you see that not just with the president but if you look at the U.S. Senate.

You know, why is it so hard to get election security measures through at this time? Because even that question has been politicized. And that's a problem. And again, you know, when you talk to the folks who are fighting it on a daily basis, or even when you talk to city lawmakers of both parties who are briefed on the threat, they will tell you there's no doubt it happened, it's happening, it's important. And they're getting better at it. And yet, those things have had doubts cast upon them for political reasons, and that weakens the American response.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, did you give any consideration to adding Iran to this piece? Or is it more contained, geographically, and therefore, you--
JIM SCIUTTO:
It did. I did consider adding both Iran and North Korea, because both of them use shadow war tactics. You know, it's asymmetric warfare. So, by nature, smaller adversaries, they really have no choice. It's logical. It makes sense. It's good strategy. And you know, North Korean and Iran have directed energy weapons. They don't quite have the capabilities of Russia and China. But in terms of dazzling satellites or blinding satellites-- what happened in the Persian Gulf in the last month or so --clear shadow war, yeah.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Shadow war, right, absolutely--
JIM SCIUTTO:
I mean, like, the plausible deniability on these explosives placed on the ships, that kind of thing. And as I was watching it, I was like, 'Man, you know, that's right on the mark.' I mean, the reason I focused on Russia and China is, one, because when I ask the intel folks consistently, what are your top threats, they will always put Russia and China at the top, partly just because of size and their nuclear powers.

Doesn't mean Iran and North Korea can't do damage. So, that's part of it. And the other piece that struck me is just that these are two very different countries and yet, they've struck on this similar approach for dealing with and undermining the U.S.
MICHAEL MORELL:
They figured something out here?
JIM SCIUTTO:
Yup, they did.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, a couple of final questions, Jim. Number one, in both the introduction and conclusion of the book, you draw a parallel between the shadow war, today, and American's foreign policy in the 1930s. Talk about that.
JIM SCIUTTO:
Here's the thing is that if we time traveled ourselves back to the 1930s, before, you know, 1939 invasion of Poland, before Japan's invasion of China in 1937, you had saber-rattling by these countries, you know, at the time that was often dismissed. Say, 'Listen, we can talk to them. We can find common ground. Let's not get too caught up in this.' Well, and then this was a key point that always stuck in my mind.

Give them a little and then they won't want more, right? Like, give them the eastern stretches of Europe and they're not going to want to come this way. You know, let Japan make trouble in China. That's as far as it's going to go. Now, I don't want to say, you know, that this is the equivalent; that we're facing World War III here, necessarily. But it does strike me that that kind of aggression, if it's not countered, then is encouraged.

And that's the concern. And don't take my word for it. That's the concern of the folks who are on the front lines of this. Even if it's smaller bore than a full-on war. Because if you give a signal that it's okay to occupy Ukraine in the first invasion since World War II, what are you saying about Estonia, a NATO ally? If you give ground in the South China Sea, have you sent a signal about Taiwan?

When I ask folks in the Pentagon with both China and Russia, what are the two next possible flashpoints that are at the top of their mind, they'll say Taiwan in Asia and Estonia. You know, so it may not be on the same scale, but the lesson is the same, that, you know, granting aggression doesn't normally end too well.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, that's the second question. So, you end each chapter with a section called Lesson, right. Why did you do that?
JIM SCIUTTO:
And I'm far from a teacher or a professor. I do feel that, in this environment, in this news environment, information environment, people are kind of inundated with stuff and stories and information and warnings, et cetera. And I just wanted, at the end of each chapter, to just, in a couple pages, bring it down to say here's what the smart people are telling me about what we've learned from this front or this war and the next wave forward.

And I try to tie that in at the end in a final chapter where I ask the smart people-- I said, 'Okay, give me ten steps for how to respond to this.' And those steps are not crazy ideas. They're not even that difficult, at the end of the day. Things like clear leadership and setting clear red lines. But I just thought that that was an-- you know, to make this stick, I wanted to tell folks the way forward.
MICHAEL MORELL:
The book is The Shadow War: Inside Russia and China's Secret Operations to Defeat America. The author is Jim Sciutto. Jim, thanks for being with us.
JIM SCIUTTO:
It was great to talk to you. It's a real honor. Thank you.
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