Stories from the Backchannel

Stories from the Backchannel is a CNAS podcast program that examines the stories behind some of America's most important national security moments. Hosted by CNAS Middle East Program Director Ilan Goldenberg, the podcast’s second season invites listeners behind the scenes of a major presidential campaign, crafting the world’s biggest budget, traveling to Iowa with Xi Jinping, and a firsthand account of serving in the U.S. military as a young woman in Iraq.

Season Two

Episode 1: Working National Security on John McCain’s Presidential Campaign

Richard Fontaine spent years advising leading figures in American foreign policy, but working for the late Sen. John McCain was unlike anything he had experienced before. Now Chief Executive Officer of the Center for a New American Security, Fontaine sits down with Ilan Goldenberg to discuss Senator McCain's legacy, detail stories from his time working on Capitol Hill and the 2008 McCain presidential campaign, and recount lessons learned from a storied American statesman.

Episode 2: Building the World’s Biggest Budget

What do the Pentagon's decisions about military spending say about our priorities as a nation? What goes into the DoD's $700 billion budget each year? Former Pentagon official Susanna V. Blume, now Director of the CNAS Defense Program, joins Ilan Goldenberg to discuss what the composition and size of the defense budget reveals about America’s national security priorities.

Episode 3: Working Advance for the U.S. State Department

When American diplomats travel abroad and meet with foreign leaders, who works behind the scenes to make sure everything runs smoothly? What negotiations go into preparing for a state dinner with Kim Jong-il, and how is the pageantry of a diplomatic visit used to further U.S. policy objectives? Price Floyd, a veteran State Department public affairs official and former Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, speaks with Ilan Goldenberg about his most remarkable—and bizarre—experiences abroad on diplomatic advance teams.

Episode 4: Grappling With the Costs of Combat

As a woman serving on the front lines in Iraq, Kayla Williams faced not only the perils of combat, but the ordeals of sexism and harassment. Some of her greatest challenges, however, lay at home—learning to care for a spouse with a traumatic brain injury, overcoming PTSD, and fighting for VA reform. Kayla, now Director of the CNAS Military, Veterans, and Society Program, joins Ilan Goldenberg to discuss her time serving as an Arabic linguist in the U.S. Army and the human costs of armed conflict.

Episode 5: A Front Row Seat to China's Rise

How have China's global ambitions sharpened under President Xi Jinping, and how should the United States respond? Dr. Kurt M. Campbell served in the Obama administration as the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, where he helped lead the administration's "Pivot to Asia." Now Chairman and CEO of The Asia Group, Campbell joins Ilan Goldenberg to discuss his front row seat to President Xi's rise to power, the future of U.S.-China relations, and more.

Episode 6: Countering Terrorists From Afghanistan to Cyberspace

From serving as a counterterrorism analyst for the Pentagon in Afghanistan to working on security issues at Facebook, Kara Frederick has spent her entire career confronting America's most dangerous national security challenges. Now a Fellow with the CNAS Technology and National Security Program, Frederick joins Ilan Goldenberg to discuss how terrorists and bad actors have used digital technology, how governments and private companies have responded, and what digital security challenges lie ahead.

Preview: Stories from the Backchannel: Season Two

Now more than ever, Americans are interested in the people working behind the scenes on consequential national security decisions. In Season Two of Stories from the Backchannel, host Ilan Goldenberg sits down with experts from across the U.S. foreign policy landscape to discuss their experiences and roles on the front row of history. From working on major presidential campaigns to crafting the world's largest budget, this season's guests will shed light on the places where key national security decisions happen.

Listen to the trailer for Season Two of Stories from the Backchannel.

Season One

Episode 1: Unavoidable Russia

In our first episode, Unavoidable Russia, Amb. Victoria Nuland recounts her time as one of America's leading diplomats on Russia. Listen below:

Episode 2: When Middle East Peace Almost Happened

Featuring Martin Indyk, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel.

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Episode 3: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War

Featuring Paul Scharre, Director of the CNAS Technology and National Security program.

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Episode 4: The Iran Nuclear Negotiations

Featuring Wendy Sherman, former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs.