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Fareed Zakaria GPS

Interview With General David Petraeus On The Death Of Baghdadi; Why People Blow The Whistle; No End In Sight For Hong Kong Protests. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired November 03, 2019 - 10:00   ET



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

Today on the show, General David Petraeus. He led the CIA and Central Command. Now he talks to me about the death of al-Baghdadi, the future of terrorism and tensions in the Middle East.

Also the House's impeachment inquiry into President Trump is now formal and moving forward. Let's remember how it all began, a whistleblower. Is that un-American or a supreme act of patriotism?

Then most of the Hong Kong protesters are young. But I will introduce you to a 70-year-old protester who is also a multi-millionaire media tycoon. State media on the mainland calls him a traitor. I will talk to Jimmy Lai about why he sides with the rebels.

But first here's my take. The death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a real victory in the war against terrorists. But as recent protests from Iraq to Lebanon have shown, the Middle East remains a troubled region. And if Baghdadi's death produces a greater American disengagement from the Middle East, things there could spiral downward.

Let's remember after the 9/11 attacks, the world focused its gaze on the Middle East and realized one seminal fact. The region was almost unique in having made no significant political, economic or social progress in decades. Across the globe, communist regimes had collapsed, military juntas had disappeared and economic growth had transformed developing countries. But in the Middle East, time had stood still, even moved backwards on some measures.

This stagnation, many believed, was the atmosphere in which Islamic extremism and terrorism were able to grow and spread. In 2002, the U.N. released a report on Arab development that laid bare the profound challenges of the region. It spoke of the lack of economic opportunity, political rights and social progress in much of the Arab world. In the following years, gains were made in several areas like life expectancy, literacy, female empowerment.

But as the U.N.'s most recent Arab Human Development Report points out, since 2010, nearly all Arab countries have slowed or reversed their average annual human development advances. This despite the fact that the Arab spring protests of 2011 highlighted the need for greater reforms.

Why has this happened? Well, partly because the Arab spring was largely a failure. Only Tunisia transitioned to democratic rule. Egypt saw the return of repressive rule, Syria experienced a civil war and the bloody resurgence of the Assad regime, Libya has been torn apart and Yemen faces the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

But even beyond these breakdowns, the region continues to face daunting challenges. The demographics remain grim. The Middle East has the highest youth unemployment in the world. The economic model remains highly inefficient, expensive and unsustainable with governments employing a huge number of people and providing massive subsidies for food and energy.

The hope behind the U.N.'s 2002 report was that economic and social reforms would be easier if these countries opened themselves up politically. Political openness would produce popular elected leaders, who would drain support away for Islamic extremism. This was the appealing idea behind George W. Bush's Freedom Agenda which was rooted in some serious thinking about the region.

But little of it worked. Political openings mostly led to insurgencies, sectarian violence, civil wars and brutal crackdowns. Perhaps the most important result of the enduring turmoil in the Arab world has been America's withdrawal from the region. Starting from the second term of the Bush administration through Barack Obama's presidency and now into Donald Trump's, America has gotten fed up with the Middle East. When Trump says that he wants to end the forever wars, large parts of the public agree.

So we see an emerging post-American Middle East with various regional powers jockeying for influence, mainly Saudi Arabia and Iran, along with others like Turkey and Israel pushing their own interests.


These are unchartered waters in a time of great upheaval. The Islamic State has been decapitated and is scattered for now, but the demons that fuel such terror -- stagnation, repression, despair -- continue to haunt today's Arab world.

For more go to and read my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.

Last Saturday cornered in a tunnel by U.S. Special Forces, the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi blew himself up by detonating a suicide vest. In an address to the nation the next morning, President Trump announced that the world's number one terrorist was dead.

For more on the death of al-Baghdadi and what it means for the future of terrorism, I'm joined by General David Petraeus. He was the commander of CENT-COM and of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, later served as the director of the CIA.

Dave, pleasure to have you on.


ZAKARIA: Tell me what you think this means for the future of ISIS. I ask because you destroyed al Qaeda in Iraq, and then of course it came back in the form of ISIS when American troops left. When you look at the situation today with ISIS, decapitated, it's lost its territory, its sources of revenue, its fighters scattered in the fields. How likely or unlikely is it that something like ISIS could reconstitute itself?

PETRAEUS: There are still some 20 or so thousand Islamic State fighters in that broad area, keeping in mind that the caliphate was the size of Indiana. Certainly the leader that led the Islamic State to that achievement, which is something beyond even what Osama bin Laden was able to accomplish with al Qaeda, that leader, Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi now is gone, having suffered a series of reverses one after the other, some of his possible successors already killed as well, although one has been announced.

A big question about how capable that individual will be, how much of the organizational structure is left so that he can reassemble, try to get the Islamic State back into some form of insurgency and terrorist groups, which indeed some of the elements there are in the process of doing. And then the question is how decentralized will the organization be, because it has affiliates all around the world at this point in time.

And in each case what you find where these affiliates have been established is a very significant amount of discontent, again often alienation, grievances, and that is what has enabled extremist groups to establish themselves, to take advantage of ungoverned situations in the Muslim world, and in some cases, even inadequately governed spaces. So there is a lot riding on what happens now in Syria, especially as we're now reintroducing troops, having suddenly pulled them out a couple weeks ago.

That will enable us to salvage some of what I think we achieved, many hard years and over 10,000 Syrian-Kurd partners killed in the process of defeating the Islamic State as an army and taking away its caliphate. But again once -- what will happen with the governance aspect, basic service restoration, reconstruction of the war damage, all of that.

ZAKARIA: What did you make of the president's announcement of the death of -- the killing of al-Baghdadi? I just wonder as a CIA director, as a former commander, what you thought of the manner and the details that he revealed?

PETRAEUS: Well, this was consistent really with what we have seen with the president. He enjoys impromptu press conferences, so you had the official announcement somewhat similar to what President Obama did in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden back in 2011. In this case, of course, the announcement was followed by a press conference.

I'm sure that there were individuals in the Pentagon or elsewhere, perhaps in the White House, thinking to themselves, drop the mic, Mr. President. But, again, this is customary, and I don't think at the end of the day that there were any truly big revelations that came out of that. And, indeed, the Pentagon and the White House have actually declassified some additional details.

ZAKARIA: As somebody who had to make alliances with locals in the way that the United States did with the Syrian Kurds, how bad do you think it was to betray them as we just did?

PETRAEUS: Well, I think this is very serious. In fact, I agreed very strongly with Majority Leader McConnell's assessment that this was a grave strategic mistake, withdrawing U.S. forces, and of course doing it in such a sudden fashion without any clear plan, without having notified our other coalition partners, France and the U.K., without a conversation with the Syrian Kurds, again, just literally throwing everything that's sensitive on vehicles and so forth, and then withdrawing rapidly and bombing our bases once we're out of there to deny what might be left to the Syrians or Russians or Iranians to whom we gave a degree of victory in this case.

Certainly again abandoning those who took over 10,000 losses in the course of defeating the Islamic State and eliminating the caliphate, that's quite a serious blow, and I think we're going to have to work hard to reestablish our credibility, not just there and not just with them, but really around the world. When these actions take place, if you have a red line that doesn't turn out to be a red line, if your rhetoric gets out ahead of what you're actually willing to do, over time that obviously undermines your credibility.

And that's a very serious issue because if you think about deterrence, if you're trying to deter adversaries, deterrence is a function of an adversary's perception not just of your capabilities but also of your willingness to use those capabilities. And so, again, this undermines that, it undermines confidence in the United States.

ZAKARIA: Stay with us. When we come back, I will ask General David Petraeus if Donald Trump is right and we should just get out of these endless wars.



ZAKARIA: And we are back with General David Petraeus, the former CENT-COM commander and CIA director.

General, what do you make of President Trump's focus on the oil that is in Syria and talking about how the United States, we are going to keep the oil in some way. There are people who have said that that's not only a violation of international law, it may even be a war crime. What's your reaction?

PETRAEUS: Well, there has always been a certain affinity the president has had for oil resources. You'll recall previously he said that we should have kept the oil in Iraq and so forth. And frankly, I think that those who were contributing to the policy decision here were probably just happy to have any argument that would enable keeping forces in northeastern Syria, supporting our Syrian Kurd partners and others on the ground, being able to see to the needs of what now are already hundreds of thousands of refugees, the families of those Syrian Kurds who have been displaced from the border by the Turkish buffer zone that's been created.

ZAKARIA: But does that mean you think that the United States should keep the oil in Syria?

PETRAEUS: Well, no, I don't think long term. And I think -- we are not even going to keep it now. What we are going to do is enable our Syrian Kurd partners to retain it. That's really what has been going on and this will allow the status quo to continue and thereby to deny the revenue from that either to a resurging Islamic State or to the regime forces that might try to take control of that in which case the Syrian Kurds would lose a very important bargaining chip.

ZAKARIA: Do you think that -- when you look at the situation in Syria, the president says, look, we don't need to be in all these places. We've been there for too long. And in a sense, the al- Baghdadi raid, presumably he would regard that as a success of a kind of counterterrorism policy that says we can use special forces to go in, beat up the bad guys, but we don't have to be in there, you know, providing order and such. What do you think of that argument?

PETRAEUS: Well, I think among the many lessons that we've learned in the wars of the post-9/11 period against Islamist extremist is one that states that you cannot counterterrorist like al Qaeda and the Islamic State with just counterterrorist force operations. Those are necessary. You do need to do drone strikes and Delta Force raids and so forth, especially against high value targets, and to support partners on the ground, but that's not enough.

That can achieve a security improvement, but what solidifies that security foundation is all the other activities that are necessary, the restoration of basic services, the reestablishment of grievance mechanisms, local governance, markets, schools, health clinics, all of this.

Now, that's not an argument that we should do all of that, in fact, I think what we have been able to achieve in Iraq starting with the previous administration and building on it quite effectively in this administration is the ability to defeat a very significant element, the Islamic State, but to do it with host nation forces doing the fighting on the front lines.

We have seen what happens if you withdraw from these locations before you're absolutely certain that the conditions will allow that. As my great partner in Iraq during the surge, Ambassador Ryan Crocker used to say, you can leave the movie theater but the movie continues to run.

ZAKARIA: You know, but there are a lot of Americans who listened to that, and you know, you've talked about this as a long marathon, this war against Islamic extremism, and they just -- they don't want to be part of it. They just feel as though this is getting us into other people's wars, other people's civil wars, other people's feuds. And, you know, the president, I think, reflects that sense of frustration and weariness.


PETRAEUS: Certainly. Mm-hmm.


PETRAEUS: Look, I --

ZAKARIA: What's your answer to that?

PETRAEUS: I think few people understand more -- well, I think few people understand more than those who have actually been part of these wars, that have actually been soldiering in them the desire to end endless wars and end our involvement in them. But what we have seen is that if we end our involvement prematurely, then we are going to end up being back in there, and it may be with a larger force than would have been necessary had we just maintained stability.

Let's keep in mind, in Syria, we were down to somewhere under 1500 forces in the northeast and also at that other location, the key border crossing between Iraq and Syria called Al-Tanf. That is a very modest commitment. Yes, certainly, special forces which are high demand, low density, are part of that, but I think we've actually reduced so substantially what it is that we're doing that this is actually sustainable, and of course it takes place in a context.

I am keenly aware that we have to shift focus to recognize the return of great power rivalries, to focus on the resurgent Russia, the rise of China, hoping that we can have mutually beneficial relationships, but knowing that we need to have the capabilities to deter any would- be adventurism from either camp.

This is, I think, affordable for the world's greatest super power. Again, keep it to the absolute minimum, keeping in mind we are 165,000 American men and women in uniform on the ground during the surge, 100,000 during the surge in Afghanistan plus another 50,000 coalition forces. In Afghanistan now, the U.S. component is less than 8500, and of course in Iraq it's under 5,000 or so as well.

Continue to reduce it, continue to reduce the cost in blood and treasure, but recognize, regrettably that we do have to sustain our involvement in these locations.

ZAKARIA: David Petraeus, pleasure to have you on, as always.

PETRAEUS: Great to be back, Fareed. Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, we'll turn to impeachment. The inquiry was initiated because of a complaint filed by a whistleblower. When we come back, we'll tell you about the history of whistleblowers.


[10:26:40] ZAKARIA: Oxford defines a whistleblower as a person who informs on a person or organization regarded as engaging in an unlawful or immoral activity.

The entire impeachment process of course started with such a whistleblower who filed a complaint on August 12th with the inspector general of the intelligence community.

Two very smart books have been published in recent weeks about whistleblowers. I'm lucky enough today to be joined by the authors of both books. Allison Stanger is a professor of International Politics and Economics at Middlebury. Her new book is called "Whistleblowers: Honesty in America from Washington to Trump." And Tom Mueller is a writer by trade. His latest is "Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud."

Welcome, both of you. Allison, let me start out with you. You point that whistleblowing is actually as old as the American republic. When was the first protection for whistleblowers ever written?

ALLISON STANGER, AUTHOR, "WHISTLEBLOWERS": That's right, Fareed. The first whistleblower protection law which is the world's first was passed by Congress in 1778. That's before the ratification of the Constitution, and it was passed because of a man by the name of Essex Hopkins.

Hopkins was the first commander in chief of the U.S. Navy, and he was removed from office for abusing his public office for private gain. What he was doing essentially taking the U.S. Navy other places, not to the places General Washington wanted him to engage the British, and instead of going to Chesapeake Bay, he would go, for example, to the Bahamas, and this served his commercial interests, but it certainly didn't serve the war effort and it certainly didn't serve the cause of the newly United States.

So our first whistleblower protection law really was all about the abuse of power and corruption in public servants.

ZAKARIA: Wow. Tom, you point out that these whistleblowers often are acting in circumstances that they know they could pay a very heavy price. They're facing a lot of pressure not to blow the whistle. You have this incredible case in Pennsylvania around pharmaceuticals. Explain that story.

TOM MUELLER, AUTHOR, "CRISIS OF CONSCIENCE": Right, Alan Jones was an inspector at the Inspector General's Office in the state of Pennsylvania, and his job was to inspect potential corporate fraud. And he discovered a multibillion-dollar, multi-state fraud scheme by Johnson & Johnson and other pharmaceutical companies and was promptly forced by his own department, his own government office, to back off because they were too politically -- according to his bosses, too politically connected.

So he then had to file a whistleblower suit, not only First Amendment whistleblower suit against his own office but then take on the pharmaceutical companies in a qui tam, a False Claims Act case. So very complicated. But in both cases, this individual had to take his career in his hands in order to do the right thing. The system itself was not self-correcting.

ZAKARIA: Huh. And Allison, you point out of course in some of the most famous whistleblower is Danny Ellsberg who leaks the Pentagon papers. But you point out that -- something that I was very struck by that after 9/11, there has been actually, you know, a kind of chilling effect of all the laws that came out of 9/11, the Patriot Act and such, and it actually for a while stopped whistleblowing.


STANGER: Yes. The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act checks all government employees from retaliation with the exception of national security whistleblowers. So anything involving national security, which you know well, involves keeping secrets, will require a whistleblower to break the law to reveal secrets in order to maintain the rule of law for some higher principal that applies to Snowden and that obviously applies to the current Intelligence Community whistleblower.

So it's really a miracle in my view that this complaint has even seen the light of day. Everything is stacked against it because the Intelligence Community doesn't leak. They're trained to keep secrets. They're trained to serve their country, not a particular party. And they've been essentially blowing the whistle on Donald Trump since he assumed office for, in my view, legitimate reasons.

ZAKARIA: Tom, you also think that this current whistleblower is actually -- or the whistleblowing that's taking place is being done fairly shrewdly given the constraints that they have to operate in.

MUELLER: I think that's right. I think they're lawyers understand that this is a body of whistleblowers coming forward, a community of whistleblowers, not just one, And the smart thing to do is to gradually trickle out their information, not give it in a body to be attacked together, but allow Trump and his allies to shoot, basically, all of their ammunition at the first two and then simply have nothing to answer to the others or have the others rebut.

That said, if the president of the United States suggests that you might be someone who needed to be rubbed out, that's never good.

ZAKARIA: Allison, finally, there are people, the president himself and others, who really cast doubt on the efforts, the patriotism of these whistleblowers. There's something underhand, there's something kind of un-American about what they're doing. What do you say to that?

STANGER: Whistleblowing couldn't be more more American. Whistleblowers keep our elites honest. And it's an America tradition, as we discussed dating back to 1778. So it's important to realize that this is not a partisan, it's really an American issue. And if you look at the national security community, the intelligence community, they are doing something since Trump's election that they don't normally do. No previous president has been considered a national security threat by his own intelligence community. And we certainly haven't seen this sort of blatant corruption, the use of the office of the president for private gain, but I think Americans know that obviously Americans should elect their officials, not foreigners, and that public servants should serve the American people and not their own pocketbook.

So I'm hopeful that in the days ahead, we'll see some clarity on these issues.

ZAKARIA: Allison Stanger, Tom Mueller, a pleasure to have you on.

MUELLER: Thank you very much, Fareed.

STANGER: Great to be here, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, what do you get when you mix right wing populism with left wing economics? Election success, it turns out in many parts of the world. I'll tell you about this odd recipe when we come back.



ZAKARIA: Now for the "What in the World" segment, if you're trying to understand the rise of the populous right, one (INAUDIBLE) has come into focus in Poland, where the right wing law and justice party just won a second term. Law and justice, or PIS, as it's known in Poland, has all the hallmarks of the new right. Its leaders rail against elites. They attack liberal values, democratic institutions, they claim to be speaking for ordinary polls.

But on the economy, the right wing piece is embracing the left. The biggest policy triumph for its government's last term was the family 500-plus program. It gives families cash handouts of about $130 per child per month regardless of income. The Atlantic compared it to a scheme similar to the one Andrew Yang has been promoting in the United States, universal basic income.

Cash handouts to families are common in Western Europe, but this is an unusually large boost in social spending for Eastern Europe. And it's widely credited with helping the party win at the polls.

Now, pro-family programs have a certain resonance in Eastern Europe where immigration and a falling birth rate have resulted in population declines. But this is bigger than demographics. The law and justice party has, in general, expanded the welfare state and raised spending on the poor.

As "The Times" reports, the government announced that it would nearly double the minimum wage. In its previous term, it raised pension payments and eliminated taxes for people under 26. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the party's leader, said he that drew inspiration from the progressive French economist, Thomas Piketty. This trend goes beyond Poland. Look at Hungary. Prime Miniter Viktor Orban gained power by demonizing Muslim refugees and concocting conspiracy theories about billionaire, philanthropist, George Soros. He has crippled the independence of the judiciary and the press.

But on economics, he's offered young couples interest-free loans. He's exempted women from paying an income tax for life if they have four children, and pledged to expand nursery school capacity. He's expanded work for welfare programs.

And look further back to his first term in office. After the financial crisis, he did something few dared to do. He bailed out borrowers at the expense of the banks, by offering extremely favorable rates on mortgages and forcing banks to absorb most of the difference.

As the political scientist, Mitchell Orenstein, told GPS, this shift is particularly notable in Eastern Europe because these governments fully embrace free market orthodoxy after the fall of the iron curtain. Welfare became almost taboo. Distribution, the theory went, could happen only after privatization and growth.

But when the financial crisis hit, that free market orthodoxy came into question. And it was the right, not the left, which took advantage of the new moment.


Now, this combination may not be full-proof. Orban's policies didn't save his party from losing the mayoral elections in Budapest and ten other cities last month, but on the national level, pro-poor economics mixed with nationalism can lead to an electoral windfall, not just for Europe. Look at India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has presided over generous subsidy and work programs while also promoting his Hindu nationalist agenda.

In May he won his second term handily. All around the world, it seems, the new right has adopted the policies of the old left.

Next on GPS, it's been almost several months since the progress began that have wrought Hong Kong and shaken the Chinese government in Beijing. My next guest is perhaps an unusual protester and has a unique perspective on this situation. He's a septuagenarian and a multimillionaire businessman. You won't want to miss this.


ZAKARIA: The protests in Hong Kong have now been going on for months. It may be hard to remember at this point, but the issue that sparked the protests was a controversial bill that would have allowed extradition from Hong Kong to Mainland China. Last week, Hong Kong's government finally withdrew the bill altogether.

I want to bring in a man with a unique perspective on the unrest in that part of the world.

[10:45:03] Jimmy Lai is a Hong Kong protestor, but he doesn't fit the bill of an average person out on the streets. You see, he is a multimillionaire media tycoon.

Lai fled Mainland China at the age of 12, smuggled aboard a boat bound for Hong Kong. After toiling for years in a factory, he started his own prosperous garment business. Then after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, he founded a media company that does not shy away from criticizing Beijing.

Jimmy Lai, welcome to the show.

JIMMY LAI, PRO-DEMOCRACY ACTIVIST: Thank you for having me.

ZAKARIA: So let me ask you where you think things are. Because right now, the protests continue, Beijing has not countered (ph) what a lot people thought. It has not cracked down. It has not sent troops in. What is the game plan, do you think, from the point of view of Beijing?

LAI: I'm sure that Beijing is very cautious in sending the PLA just because China is now facing economic problems that they never did before. If you take just agricultural production, the productivity declined quite a lot just because the pollution of their environment. Half the drinking water is not drinkable. And more than 60 percent of the water for agriculture irrigation is toxic. You can see that.

ZAKARIA: So they're facing problems at home and they don't want to take on --

LAI: Exactly. And also they're facing the trade war with the U.S. They're having an inflation in agricultural product. So they're facing big problems. If they send PLA in, they risk world ascension (ph). And at this time, I don't think they would risk that.

ZAKARIA: But they seem to be also banking on maybe wearing out the Hong Kong protestors, but the protests keep going. What do you think? Are people getting tired? Are businessmen in Hong Kong saying, enough, we need to get back to work?

LAI: Well, yes. Enough for the businesspeople, but it's not for Hong Kong people. Hong Kong people, what is enough is eventually when we get universal suffrage, because this is the only assurance that our freedom, rule of law, the way of life, human rights, all that will not be constantly encroached by China.

And after four-and-a-half-month resistance, we know for sure this is a fight of the last straw. We have to persist. And Hong Kong people have never been that united and determined.

ZAKARIA: So you think that nothing less than universal suffrage will end this?

LAI: Yes. Yes.

ZAKARIA: A lot of people look at Hong Kong and they say, these are a lot of people who care about money. The city runs on money. This seems all about politics.

LAI: Well, yes, Hong Kong people -- especially young people, the life is not easy. Take the real estate, the prices are really very high, (INAUDIBLE) are very high just because just a lot of rich people in China come to Hong Kong to buy real estate. To stay in Hong Kong, they want the value of freedom, and they don't think that we need the value of freedom. They just take the whole thing as an economic problem. No, it's not. Even the five demands, none of them is about economy. It's just about freedom. It's just about human dignity. It's about Hong Kong people keeping the way of life that we used to.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you a personal question. You're a very rich man. You have a very comfortable life. You could very easily go on -- this is hurting your business, Beijing has started in your business, embargoing it, you're losing ads. Why are you doing this?

LAI: Well, if there is no freedom, what good is money?

I think you have to live a life of meaning, and I found taking responsibility to fight for freedom is meaningful for me, personally.

ZAKARIA: Do you want this to be your legacy?

LAI: I'm not thinking about legacy, I'm just thinking that doing the right thing and not to think about the consequences.

ZAKARIA: Jimmy Lai, pleasure to have you on, sir.

LAI: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: And we will be right back.



ZAKARIA: The next presidential election is exactly a year away and American politicians aren't the only ones gearing up. Already hackers and trolls from around the world are seeking to interfere in the 2020 election. Last week, Facebook announced that it had shut down networks of coordinated inauthentic behavior, targeting American voters and social media users in Africa and Latin America.

It brings me to my question. From which nation did the majority of the disinformation campaign networks removed by Facebook last week originate? Was it Russia, China, Iran or North Korea?

Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer.

My book of the week is actually a T.V. show, HBO's Succession. This miniseries is a fictionalized version of the life of Rupert Murdoch and his family. Somehow without a single sympathetic character in the entire cast, the creators have managed to make it compelling. It is Machiavelli on T.V.

The answer to my GPS challenge this week is C, Iran, three of the four disinformation networks that Facebook removed last week originated in Iran.


According to Facebook, the Iranian trolls used the trident true method of masquerading as locals to try to manipulate perception of everything, from Black Lives Matter to Israeli settlements.

But if you guessed Russia, they were responsible for that fourth network shut down by the social media giant last week. Facebook warned that the Russian campaign had the hallmarks of well-resourced operation using more sophisticated security tactics to conceal the troll's identity as they posted, liked and commented their way around the internet.

Doing so, the Russians netted a whopping quarter of a million followers across 50 Instagram accounts. That's more than the three Iranian campaigns combined. Experts have warned that Russia is doubling down on its cyber capabilities and its ability to conceal what it is doing.

Recently, American and British investigators revealed a complicated plot where Russian hackers broke into an Iranian cyber spying operation called Oilrig. Hiding within Oilrig's own hacking infrastructure, the Russians could access the hacked data, expand their own reach and even deliver malware to unsuspecting victims across 35 countries, all while masquerading as original Iranian attackers.

So whether on an American Instagram feed or inside an Iranian hacking network, Russian reach is expanding the 2020 just around the corner.

Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.