John R. Schindler is a strategist, author, and commentator whose security-focused career has included a couple decades as both a scholar and practitioner. He is the national security columnist for the New York Observer.
He is a prolific social media commentator both on Twitter @20committee, where he’s been active since mid-2012 and has more than a quarter-million followers, as well as on his premium private channel @thespybrief, care of PremoSocial (subscribe here.)
Previously a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, where he taught courses on security, strategy, intelligence, terrorism, and military history, before joining the NWC faculty, he spent nearly a decade with the super-secret National Security Agency as an intelligence analyst and counterintelligence officer. There’s not much he can say about that, except that he worked problems in Eastern Europe and the Middle East with a counterespionage flavor, and he collaborated closely with other government agencies who would probably prefer he didn’t mention them. He’s also served as a cryptologic warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve.
He’s been a a senior fellow of the International History Institute at Boston University and as well as the chairman of the Partnership for Peace Consortium‘s Combating Terrorism Working Group, a unique body which brings together scholars and practitioners from more than two dozen countries across Eurasia to tackle problems of terrorism, extremism, and political violence. He has lectured on terrorism and security in over twenty countries.
He is a historian by background, with a B.A. and M.A. from the University of Massachusetts and a Ph.D. from McMaster University. His books deal with topics like the Italian front in World War I, Islamist extremism in the Balkans, and an insider’s look at how Al-Qa’ida thinks and operates. His most recent book is on the beginning of World War I on the Eastern Front. He’s currently writing a couple books on cool stuff.
John speaks several languages, divides his time among a few places, and enjoys good food and wine, traveling to the Alps, and spy stories.
If you have matters you would like discuss offline or confidentially, he can be contacted right here.
P.S. If you are wondering why this blog is called The XX Committee, read here.
I’m impressed with our take on all this.
Any chance of direct communication?
I pinged you back on the email you posted with …
OK, I’m not up to speed on pinging.
What happens next?
LOL gotcha …. email me @ email@example.com — looking forward
Truly appreciate your candor here and Twitter. For newbie to learning, you’ve been gracious at explaining things in non-technical terms. Thanks – much appreciated.
Thanks, I very much appreciate the kind feedback.
XXcomm/JRS: thank you for sharing your keen insights in the I/counter worlds with us. You have a special gift. Keep your lamp lit, hold it high. In gratitude, William
Thanks so much for your kind feedback, it’s appreciated!
I’ve been following you on Twitter since #Snowden has become a hash tag and I’ve really appreciated your insights. We have shared a few tweets back and forth. One of the things that has been clear from your tweets is your frustration with a lot of folks holding forth on intelligence issues who are doing it from a position of ignorance on how things actually work instead of how people just think they work. I’d really like to educate myself more on some of these issues. Can you recommend some decent books that one can read to at least have some small sense of how things work? I know you’re not a fan of Bamford, whose stuff is what most of not involved in anything would have heard of, so after I finish his books I’d like to continue learning more about this. Any quick recommendations?
I know you’re super busy, so if you don’t have the time/inclination to respond to this then no worries at all. Thanks again
Hi, thanks for your interest. Off the bat, re NSA I’d recommend – not without reservations – Matthew Aid’s 2009 book on NSA. Vastly better than Bamford. NSA website, esp for its history center (CCH) has everything that’s been written, declassified and released on US SIGINT & INFOSEC. Great stuff. Start there. Hit me back for 102 level recommendations after that. Good luck!
Thanks so much! I will def. check out your recs.
My ex husband is Steven W. Grimaud. He is also former NAVSECGRU and a senior executive officer at NSA. I divorced him in 1977 when he asked me to lie for him so he could get a clearance. When I refused to lie, he dumped his 5 year old daughter and never came back – then he married another worman a year later, and adopted her kids, and she lied. Thirty five years later, I’m explaining this to the DoD and the NSA – because somebody destroyed all my public records so investigators would never find me. I respect the fact that you are a professor at the Naval College, and served honorably, but my ex husband did not serve honorably, but was involved in espionage that got him an early discharge and a slap on the hand – and a job offer at the NSA. And the NSA knows everything and does nothing. I have absolutely no respect for the NSA brass. My ex was a part of the John Walker spy ring, and NSA knows it. They left me holding the bag, and it destroyed my daughter’s life.
If you have evidence your ex-husband was part of the Walker ring I suggest you call the FBI at once.
This is about Smolensk crash. After 3 years of Russian held ‘investigation’ there are serious doubts about methodology and honesty of handling the case regarding both Russian and Polish side. Polish mainstream and government media use agressive propaganda to drift public opinion into not caring and even agressive attitudes. People who question official narrative and reports – such as former Polish CI (SKW) head A. Macierewicz – are being ridiculed and stigmatised in very visible fashion for a trained eye. What do You think about that case?
This case continues to mystify & dismay me.
There is so much about this case that probably is active intelligence that I don’t really expect You to answer and of course I would very much appreciate if You did. 😉
Taking into consideration series of dots from different scope:
– mysterious deaths after Smolensk: including gen. Petelicki, former GROM special force commander, G. Michniewicz, general director of PM’s Office – both had NATO clearances at some time – R. Muś, witness in the case and even A. Lepper, known for his connections with Moscow;
– many procedural outrageous ‘errors’ e.g. there were no Polish
autopsies, legal assumption it was a civil flight, letting Russian take over personal belongings of people on-board;
– indications of Polish measuring instruments that there’s been TNT on the aircraft, denial by the Polish officials after 6 months with explanation that the instruments were badly maintained (just like in Razań bombings attempt case in RF);
– official Polish CI (SKW) cooperation with FSB;
– Polish Electoral Comission’s trips to Moscow;
– German-Russian arm and military infrastructure contracts;
– a major shift in Polish international policy with current ‘lay-low-and-drift’ doctrine – instead of region leadership that is the only realistic way to survive for both Poland and the region against Berlin-Moscow axis;
– constant media operations aiming at lowering Polish morale;
I do believe that Poland has been invaded on the intelligence level with strategic inside cooperation, so I stand aghast when I hear about US ‘reset’ with Moscow.
There is a thing though that is official and probably unclassified and You may have a way of knowing it for sure: is it true that Poland refused NATO help after 10.04.2010?
By the way, materials on Snowden Operation are great – lacked American voice that notice FIS activity on this one – when he was still in China I wasn’t sure what it is but as soon as he landed at Sheremetyevo, FSB/GRU fingerprints emerged just as when Julian Assange appeared on Russia Today. Russian proteges talking about ‘human rights’ are grotesque but unfortunately there are a lot of people that don’t know that, hope that US CI will help them understand their perception error – well, showing them real Russia (Litvinienko case, very large goods disproportion, ways of ‘solving’ ethnic conflicts and imperialistic paranoia) might be just enough. 🙂
With kind regards!
Thank you for this – aghast is the right word. 🙂
Mr. Schindler, I am a student with a huge interest in your work. I was wondering if you could perhaps give some advice to a student looking to potentially pursue a career in foreign policy. I will be attending Vanderbilt University this coming fall and would love to communicate with someone as knowledgable as you.
First – good luck! Off the bat, learn languages and see the world out there …it’s the source of real knowledge.
XX Committee website is absolutely amazing. Brilliantly insightful and enormously informative. I look forward to reading your tweets, and any associated links, whenever I am able to. ( In fact I read your tweets more than any other I follow on twitter ). Best wishes and regards.
Amazing insight and analysis. I’ve shared your previous pieces and insights with as many as possible both in the media and among friends in attempt to educate and inform and more importantly fuel a sense of urgency for folks to wake up and understand the enormity of the problem that is called Putin. I fear it is almost too late for eastern Ukraine, as he is moving in in plain site and the west fails to or refuses to address it.
Greetings/Pryvit There’s good work here.
I learned a lot about Russian/Soviet/Bolshevik, German Army, Polish Army AK, tactics from my father who pledged a soldier’s oath to the UPA and not to any political party that attaches to this Ukrainian Insurgent Army. In 1946, the UPA was working in tandem with the AK fighting Soviet communism, but by 1947 UPA was so infiltrated by Kremlin provocateurs, it was ordered to disband in the fall of 1947. More can be learned from the primary source material published by UPA veterans through Litopys UPA (Chronicles of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army). It’s all there. Will be on a Google+ community Epiphany Conversation: Women of Maidan Act II Monday, April 14 at 6:30 p.m. EST. https://plus.google.com/u/0/events/c1lcp9q61d5klv0gda3o1foojmg?authkey=CKWYk_aKrbHFrgE.
Sir, I was sent to your site by @jackmurphyrgr. Your article on ideology was superb. Thank you. I may be spending some time looking through your website archive.
Welcome – enjoy!
John, can you provide any commentary on the current situation in Iraq. How has the United States let ISIS gain so much traction in the region and what are to do about it? Thank you.
I will eventually, thanks.
Mr. Schindler, I have been following your blog for a a few months, and wish to thank you for your work and insights. I am from Slovenia but living in Cairo having opened a company a few years ago. In light of current events could you be kind to give your take on the Western foreign policy regarding not only Levant but also North Africa. Living in the area I don’t find the current situation surprising but more a consequence of an ideology that has persisted and grown for over a hundred years – the modern liberal and Islamist debates on where should the Muslim world move have been around since at least the end of the 19th century. The Brotherhood, an Egyptian offspring, did not culminate in a wannabe democratic institution but has been radicalised since its inception under the kings, when it successfully assassinated some public figures, up until today regardless of the public image they have tried to display in the West comparing to the image they actually display in their home countries. The other similar organizations had sprung up from them or their leading figures were the members. I have been however surprised at the naivete of the West in relation to the Arab spring revolutions when I, not being a foreign policy or intel expert could predict the correct outcome only through some observation. The issue I see is that all these fighting elements aren’t unhappy poverty stricken renegades but people with a clear ideology and goals in mind – that idea is spread throughout the area, and ordinary people aren’t that unsympathetic as we might imagine.
I would also be very interested to read from you what is the impact on Lebanon and Jordan, continuing onto the West Bank and Gaza where Hamas struck a deal with Abbas which in my opinion means take over of all the Palestinian areas by Hamas – and as I have read yesterday Hamas has been calling for a new intifida going hand in hand with the situation in Iraq.
Also – please excuse me for asking too much – do you think the West should approach Kurdistan closer since disintegration of Iraq is probably coming. I am thinking that could give a boost to a Kurdish and Western cooperation before Russia jumps in, aiding the EU energy independence on the Turkey – Kurdistan axis. I believe if the ME region blows up the EU will have a large energy problem with a total dependence on the Russian energy supplies, probably damaging its economies gravely.
And the last question – I think Saudi Arabia is not a stable country as it seems. They completely depend on energy exports, and substantial decrease in prices or exports would damage their economy substantially – considering most of their population depends on government income and having a rather small industry besides energy how would that affect their stability? When I was there for a visit I have noticed a large dissatisfaction not only among the people in relation to their government and religious system but also among the geographical areas where I could observe strong animosity between people of Jeddah and Riadh, sometimes bordering on pure hate.
Do you also see approachment among Iran, India, and the US in relation to the problems with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the Taliban in Pakistan where Pakistan seems to have lost control over some areas – I was just reading today on the Jamestown of a new group calling to begin operations in Kashmir.
I must make this comment – the EU and the US foreign policy is rather confusing which has been evident in Egypt.
With best regards, and thank you for your patience.
Thank you for your feedback. Your questions require a book to answer properly. Suffice it to say that the Greater Middle East is embarking now on what began in 2002/3, namely the biggest series of political changes there since the collapse of the Ottomans in 1918. Many long-unresolved political, ethnic, and social issues – often intertwined – are bursting forth and can no longer be contained. There will be much chaos and disorder, for decades. If you could tell you exactly what that means, I would have a crystal ball. 🙂
I found your blog by coincidence (referred by FT Alphaville or Naked Capitalism, probably) and got hooked. While I dont share all your conclusions (as a German citizen I might have some other perspective on certain topics :-)) I really enjoy the depths and seriousness that is shown in all your entries and the foundation of real knowledge and inside behind it.
Please keep up the good work and continue to share (what you can) with us in the future!
Danke u. Willkommen!
Hello, John! The VOA Ukrainian Service would like to do an interview with you. Can you get back to us?
Great articles, honest and detailed! But where is story of Alexand Litvinenko murdered by Russians in London in 2006?
John, What would the world look like if Putin had a change of heart, joined the EU and NATO? Please don’t laugh.
I enjoy the heck out of your blogs. Look forward to them very much. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Thought this might interest you:
Regarding your e-mail, opdunav83:
I am usually a fan, but would like to know how you know how history will judge President Obama?
Also, when you talk about all the high ranking people you know at the CIA you sound like a name dropper, so go ahead and drop their names.
1. I have a PhD in history and know a fair amount about historiography. Study it sometime.
2. Divulging identities of CIA personnel is a Federal crime (see: Agee). So I won’t do that but if you’d like to I’d be happy to arrange an FBI visit for you.
Thanks for your invite to meet with the FBI, but I spent 14 years visiting with the FBI.
Then your ignorance is inexplicable.
I believe indulging the identity of an undercover agent of the CIA agent is a federal crime. Many high ranking CIA personnel identities regularly appear in the press (e.g., Director of CIA). Thanks for your invite to meet with the FBI, but I spent 14 years visiting with the FBI.
Only very senior CIA officials are overt and appear in public. Even some of them, ie head of NCS/DO, can be covert. Your misuse of the term “agent” tells me you are not well informed. Read up.
I am looking forward to your analysis of Daesh. Officially no states support the Daesh now but are they still receiving significant amounts of aide clandestinely from the Gulf area?
Yes they are.
I expect they receive money and small arms but I am thinking more about sophisticated weapons. They have captured much advanced equipment from the Syrian and Iraqi armies but If I believe some sources then they don’t have the ability to repair, maintain and operate what they have captured. If I were they I would be asking my backers specifically to furnish experts to get these types of weapons online and fast. The Deash already has the trappings of a state. If it can demonstrate even some capability in say air defense then they would gain much credibility among it’s supporters. Are there indications that the Deash are receiving this type of aide?
Sice Daesh events on, I am very interested into knowing a little bit more about all this unknown world (at least for me) that is geo politics and the implication of intelligence agencies (especially US agencies) into it. Could you recommend me any book (preferably translated into spanish) to start?
Thanks in advance
p.d: sorry for my english, I know it´s not that good!
Just posted to my Facebook: Strange but the more I start to read the more everything comes together.. The fact that Terrorists trained in Crimea..and that Russia would seek to engage in terrorist warfare with the west. Obviously the States had no choice but to fight fire with fire.
Is it surprising Russia wants to control Crimea to continue its terrorist war. Litivenko who was assassinated in the UK had made claims that Putin was involved and him and his cronies should never ever be leaders. Andropov in 1972 claimed that Terrorism was the unconventional war they would use. The pieces all start to fall together and it’s hard not to believe that the Russians were capable of backing the 1972 Olympic attack let alone inciting the. 9/11 attack on the states. I had always believed the drama of 9/11 mirrored the 1972 attack as a media spectacle. When connections to Hamburg appeared I thought It proved one thing this reeks of Red Army Faction. Yet only today I would see what seems a trail to Moscow.
When the US assisted Yemenis in attacking al Qaeda there they used Russian Helicopters supposedly to distance themselves but my thinking is that the USA knows who these people are friends with and would trust… Why would they be worried about a sound of helicopters friendly to them. I have no doubt in my mind Moscow is much more dangerous than anyone suspects.
I had just written a friend that dirty things were to be expected from a cornered Russia as I had read about in 2015. We need to upgrade our military capabilities and fast.
I think our leaders need to open the books as to what they actually know is going on.
Could you set up a XXcommittee facebook feed account?
Not big on FB
I’m loving this blog, wish I found it earlier. There’s so much to read!
David Goldman referenced a post of yours in his most recent article at PJ Media (Feb 15, 2015). As he doesn’t often cite other people, I followed it and found this fantastic blog w/its wealth of information.
Since you mention a love of spy novels, might I ask for an opinion on two very different authors (both of whom I love)?
1) Adam Hall [pseudonym for Elleston Trevor: author of the Quiller books]
2) Alan Furst [author of spy-novels set in pre-war Europe]
I enjoy Furst; never read Hall so I can’t comment. Thanks for your feedback!
Your commentary as it is a refreshing change from the short sighted ‘opinions’ of armchair pundits — your recent post on arming Ukraine is a case in point; as a former infantry and armoured recon NCO I find it immensely irritating to read articles by people whose only understanding of weaponry is gleaned from tech data sheets.
You raise an excellent point about the Javelin (my former colleagues from anti-armour were always keen to point out that it was effective against battlefield drones as well) however I think that the ‘war winner’ that is missing is a figurehead who can rally the Ukrainian people. In other words, a maverick like Churchill, but also a military hard-ass like Patton or Matt Ridgeway in Korea, who went around with a grenade strapped to one shoulder and a med kit on the other.
The current situation — an ex Chekist facing down Ukraine’s Willy Wonka — reminds me of the pleas of the German military opposition to the British when Munich was being arranged in September 1938: for God’s sake, they said, send someone with a duelling scar on his face, who can thump the table and shout and scream twice as loud as Hitler can. Instead, Chamberlain went with his brolly and Hitler told Goebbels (or possible Goering): “If that old man with his silly umbrella ever comes back here I’m going to throw him down the stairs and stomp on his stomach in front of all the photographers.”
As for Alan Furst, I like his books, but he needs to brush up on his history. In the Spies of Warsaw he perpetuates the myth that Hitler planned the tank dash through the Ardennes well in advance, when it was only first proposed by von Manstein in October 1939. He furthers the myth in The World At Night by portraying a France defeated in five days instead of five weeks.
But I guess that’s why you call it fiction…
You gotta read this! Where Journalism Goes to Die http://politi.co/1EUj8lM
Great blog. Thanks for sharing. I enjoy spy novels and historical accounts as well. Recent discoveries:
Robert Harris, “An Officer and a Spy,” set against the Dreyfus Affair
Ben McIntire, “A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal,” focusing on Philby’s friends Nicholas Elliot of MI6 and James Angleton of CIA
Hello! Huge fan of your blog, sir. Great for a young counterintelligence/geopolitics nut. I especially liked your post on ideology-I really couldn’t agree more and I’m directing other people to look at it. I also liked the posts on the WEIRDos-it’s pretty interesting to look at from my generational standpoint and to discuss with other people. We are in for some interesting times in the world to be. Whether that’s good or bad… we’ll see.
I have a question. If you had to choose a foreign language to learn, what would it be? Most people say Arabic or Mandarin (which I already know a little of), but I was wondering if you would agree or you’d recommend something more niche-like?
That dick_nixon account on Twitter is disturbingly authentic, to say the least.
Depends entirely which part of the world captures your fancy. Arabic, Mandarin, Russian are all fine choices; Farsi, Korean also good (if you seek intel work).