Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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Predictions of the Candidates’ Promises to “Secure America”

by Micah Zenko
A TV cameraman works during a rehearsal for the first U.S. presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York September 25, 2016. (Wilking/Reuters) A TV cameraman works during a rehearsal for the first U.S. presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York September 25, 2016. (Wilking/Reuters)

This blog post was coauthored with my research associate, Jennifer Wilson.

Last week, President Obama announced the unprecedented step of connecting U.S. national security with the threats posed by climate change. Obama’s Presidential Memorandum directs twenty federal agencies to integrate climate change into national security policy and planning—meaning collecting climate science data and identifying how climate change will affect agency missions. Melting ice and rising temperatures are not traditionally considered national security concerns, but the memorandum is the most recent development in a years-long effort to focus on the dangers of global environmental change that has been applauded by security professionals and environmentalists alike. Read more »

How Not to Red Team

by Micah Zenko
Passenger TSA A woman passes through a TSA checkpoint at Reagan National Airport. (Lamarque/Reuters).

During the 2015 summer travel season, airline passengers were stunned by a finding that was never supposed to be made public, but which leaked to ABC News. Auditors from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) had successfully smuggled weapons and fake explosives past Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints sixty-seven times out of seventy attempts at multiple domestic airports earlier that year. The DHS Inspector General John Roth later told a Congress that the auditors did not have “any specialized background or training,” meaning they were not especially proficient or skilled red teamers. Read more »

Hackers, Pen Tests, and Security Research: A Conversation with Chris Rohlf

by Micah Zenko

I spoke with Chris Rohlf, former head of Yahoo’s red team in New York and a thoughtful and respected voice in the security community. Chris has extensive experience as a pen tester, developer, engineer, and consultant for various organizations, including within the Department of Defense and on the Black Hat review board. We discuss how the government should bridge the gap with the security community, like the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) and the recent Hack the Pentagon bug bounty. We also talk about how organizations will grapple with the challenges presented by the Internet of Things, the “IoT”: the growing network of objects that sense and interact with each other. Chris offers useful advice for aspiring hackers, and three practical suggestions for how you can protect your own devices. Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisrohlf. Read more »

CFR Model Diplomacy: Students as Policymakers

by Micah Zenko
A U.S. airman guides a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone as it taxis to the runway at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan on March 9, 2016. (Josh Smith/Reuters) A U.S. airman guides a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone as it taxis to the runway at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan on March 9, 2016. (Josh Smith/Reuters)

When asked to recommend readings for international relations and foreign policy syllabi, I regularly send people to my summaries of important policy-relevant findings from academic journals. But for this fall, I wanted to recommend an immersive teaching tool that goes beyond reading lists and puts students in the policymaker hot seat, where they work in teams to make judgments and decisions based upon limited information and timelines. Read more »

The Pentagon Plans for Autonomous Systems

by Micah Zenko
An Intel AscTec Firefly drone during a flight demonstration on Capitol Hill in Washington November 19, 2015 (Cameron/Reuters). An Intel AscTec Firefly drone during a flight demonstration on Capitol Hill in Washington November 19, 2015 (Cameron/Reuters).

Today, the Defense Science Board (DSB) released a long-awaited study, simply titled Autonomy. Since the late 1950s, the DSB has consistently been at the forefront of investigating and providing policy guidance for cutting-edge scientific, technological, and manufacturing issues. Many of these reports are available in full online and are worth reading. Read more »

Civil-Military Relations: A Conversation with Kori Schake

by Micah Zenko
Warriors Citizens book cover Warriors and Citizens: American Views of our Military ed. by Kori Schake and Jim Mattis (Hoover 2016)

Today I spoke with Kori Schake, Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. We spoke about her new book co-edited with Jim Mattis, Warriors and Citizens: American Views of our Military (Hoover 2016) and what their research reveals about how the public and elites currently view the military—and what that means for national security policy. Kori also offered some candid advice for young national security scholars and an uplifting story featuring the great Harvard Professor Ernie May from early in her career. Follow her work on Twitter @KoriSchake, and listen to my conversation with one of the smartest and most well-respected experts in national security and military affairs: Read more »

Reviewing the Pentagon’s ISIS Body Counts

by Micah Zenko
Strike Eagles Iraq Syria A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes in Syria, in September 2014.

Four months after President Obama pledged to the nation in September 2014 “we will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL,” reporters challenged Pentagon spokesperson Rear Adm. John Kirby about his assertion that “We know that we’ve killed hundreds of their forces.” One reporter asked directly, “can you be more specific on that number?” Kirby replied tersely: Read more »

Revisiting President Reagan’s Iran Arms-for-Hostages Initiative

by Micah Zenko
Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan waves to well-wishers on the south lawn of the White House on April 25, 1986. (Marquette/Reuters) Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan waves to well-wishers on the south lawn of the White House on April 25, 1986. (Marquette/Reuters)

The Wall Street Journal published an important story about the Obama administration’s decision in January to ship $400 million, which was first converted into Swiss and Dutch currencies, to Iran on board a cargo plane. The plane delivering the money had reportedly arrived at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport on the same date that four U.S. citizens were released by the government of Iran. Read more »

Diagnosing and Deciding Military Interventions: Insights from Surgical Scholarship

by Micah Zenko
Surgeon poses Professor Karl Oldhafer poses before liver surgery in Hamburg August 15, 2013. (Bimmer/Reuters)

This blog post was coauthored with my research associate, Jennifer Wilson.

Hillary Clinton has reportedly made reassessing U.S. strategy in Syria one of her first agenda items as president. With a history of generally backing interventions and statements of support for no-fly zones and safe zones on the record, an expanded intervention in Syria is likely should Clinton win. Plenty has been written over the past five years on the the risks and potential benefits of intervening in Syria. Consider how similarly invasive, dramatic, and potentially harmful decisions are made outside of foreign policy: an (admittedly unorthodox) analogy can be drawn between a president’s decision to intervene militarily and a surgeon’s decision to operate on a patient. Read more »

Red Team at Aspen

by Micah Zenko
Fallows Zenko Aspen Red Team James Fallows interviews CFR Senior Fellow Micah Zenko on his book, Red Team: How to Succeed By Thinking Like the Enemy, at the Aspen Ideas Festival on June 27, 2016.

Late last month, I was honored to be a speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival about my book Red Team: How to Succeed By Thinking Like the Enemy. The Festival, which the Aspen Institute began in 2005, invites a wide array of thinkers and doers from around the world to present their research or performances in an unusually scenic environment, and in front of super smart and challenging attendees. At this year’s festival, the big-name speakers included Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Secretary of State John Kerry, and IMF chief Christine Lagarde. I learned a great deal from the sessions I attended on food insecurity, criminal justice reform, and the expanding universe—I even got to observe evidence of this at night through high-powered telescopes. Read more »