Clint Watts

NBC News Contributor, Former FBI Agent, Foreign Policy and Cyber Security Expert

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At the Podium

Four years ago, the idea that Russian spies were secretly influencing American public opinion sounded like the plot of a Cold War spy novel. Today, we know that this idea was not so far-fetched after all. A small team of analysts, led by Clint Watts, saw the writing on the wall in 2014, and sounded the warning bells that there was a massive Russian Cyberwarfare propaganda operation underway that sought to exploit American free speech on social media with the goal of undermining American Democracy. No one listened. How did intelligence services miss this? What are the implications for the future of American Democracy? And how can we prevent these sorts of attacks in the future? Clint Watts and his team saw this all coming before anyone else did.

In 2014, long before Russian interference in American politics was a daily headline, Watts had discovered that there was a complex and coordinated social media propaganda campaign emanating from Russia. His team conducted an in-depth study of this propaganda campaign and published their findings, which led to him being the target of Russian hacking himself. He warned that this campaign sought to influence American public opinion on major political issues that affected Russia and sowed chaos amongst Western populations. Though his warnings were disregarded then, Watts has since become the preeminent expert on the Russian propaganda campaign, testifying before Congress in March and April 2017 and making numerous appearances on worldwide news outlets. At the podium, Watts discusses the sprawling fake news operation in detail—its implications on our First Amendment right to free speech, the future of social media, its effect on public opinion in both the US and Europe, and its impact on U.S. foreign policy going forward.

In addition to his expertise on Russian hacking, Watts draws on his years of experience as a Special Agent on the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and instructor at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. He is considered one of the foremost experts on ISIS & Al-Qaeda, counter-terrorism, and cyber security. He also stresses that the cyber battlefield knows no boundaries affecting businesses and everyday citizens. He explains how cyber-attacks can originate from anywhere, while targeting the most sensitive data ranging from employee files and intellectual property, to financials and sales decks. Watts details how businesses can properly prepare for, detect, and counteract cyber security threats when they arise, while also educating organizations on how to establish effective internal lines of communication to ensure optimal defense mechanisms and rapid response to emerging crises.

About Clint Watts

Clint Watts is a Robert Fox Fellow for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. Clint is a consultant and researcher modeling and forecasting threat actor behavior and developing countermeasures for disrupting and defeating state and non-state actors. As a consultant, Clint designs and implements customized training and research programs for military, intelligence and law enforcement organizations at the federal, state and local level. In the private sector, he helps financial institutions develop best practices in cyber security intelligence operations. His research predominantly focuses on terrorism forecasting and trends seeking to anticipate emerging extremist hotspots and anticipate appropriate counterterrorism responses. More recently, Clint used modeling to outline Russian influence operations via social media and the Kremlin’s return to Active Measures.

Before becoming a consultant, Clint served as a U.S. Army infantry officer, an FBI Special Agent on a Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), as the Executive Officer of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point (CTC) and as a consultant to the FBI’s Counter Terrorism Division (CTD) and National Security Branch (NSB). Clint earned a B.S. from the United States Military Academy and an M.A. from Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

Speech Topics

  • Armies of Evil: The Fight to Win the War on Terror against ISIS and al-Qaeda
  • Russian Spies, Social Media, and Fake News: An Inside Look at Russia's Cyber Warfare Campaign Against American Democracy
  • The Wild West of the Internet: Keeping Your Business Secure in the Age of Cybercrime

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