FishbowlDC Interview With CNN’s Jim Sciutto

Jim Sciutto Washington DC Photo:Mark HillCNN Digital Rebranding 2014

This week, FishbowlDC interviewed CNN’s chief national security correspondent and Washingtonian Mom‘s “The Hot Dad,” Jim Sciutto.

Last year was a busy one for Sciutto, with the United States facing new national security threats at home and around the globe. Last year alone, he traveled to Ukraine to cover the crisis in Crimea and the country’s Eastern territories; to China with U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel; and to Tehran as Iran began to implement the U.S. nuclear agreement. Sciutto, who joined CNN in September 2013, was previously ABC News’ senior foreign correspondent based in London.

The New York City native graduated from Yale, where he majored in Chinese history (props to a fellow history major), and is the author of Against Us: The New Face of America’s Enemies in the Muslim World. We asked Jim a wide array of questions, regarding everything from 2014’s emerging national security threats — like Putin, ISIS, and cyberattacks — to new challenges facing the media in its coverage of such issues.

ISIS is making the headlines right now, but in your opinion, who or what represents the greatest threat to U.S. interests right now?
From a terror perspective, U.S. officials consistently tell me AQAP and Khorasan Group remain the groups most capable of carrying out significant terror attacks on Americans. That said, they say lone wolf attacks are the most likely because they’re harder to track, if less ambitious. More broadly, I see China and Russia as the countries most likely to affect U.S. interests. At the core, our countries have different systems, different priorities and different worldviews. Unless our leaders find a way to reconcile those differences, conflict is a real possibility, and we’re seeing that play out today in Ukraine.

What do you think are the greatest challenges to covering national security issues today?
The biggest challenge is some government officials’ increasing reluctance to speak to the media, particularly in the intelligence area. This is partly driven by efforts to identify and prosecute leakers. But I think it’s also partly the result of a general and growing distrust of the media. Now, there are a lot of bad practices out there, but there are also lots of good reporters trying to do their jobs well. The best way to address the distrust is through relationships — and I have good ones with officials — and simply by doing good work. As journalists and media organizations, our reputations are our best currency.

Do you think the news media is adequately covering the myriad national security issues, or do you think there are angles important to the debate that aren’t being reported?
I believe that there are so many outlets covering so many angles that — in some ways — the world is better covered today than ever before. Now, that doesn’t mean that the best reporting gets the most attention or eyeballs. It can be drowned out by the cacophony of information and editorializing and (frankly) bad information out there. So, it takes an informed consumer to filter out the noise. And it takes us in the media helping consumers to do just that — and to understand the context of it all.

Given Putin’s recent address to the Russian people, do you believe sanctions are working? Moreover, how do you see this renewed rivalry playing out in Ukraine and beyond, given Putin’s description of Crimea as a kind of holy land and attempts to designate Eastern Ukraine as a part of “New Russia”?
Sanctions, aided by the fall in the price of oil, have clearly imposed severe costs on Russia. Whether those costs have changed Putin’s calculus isn’t clear yet, though there is some evidence of new outreach by Russia to the West. Still, we can’t underestimate the importance of Russia’s land grab in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. Peace in Europe and beyond has relied on respect for borders and the settlement of disputes via negotiation and international institutions rather than military force. In Ukraine, Russia has upended that status quo. I really do believe that if and how the West and Russia settle this dispute — and it is far from settled — has enormous implications for Europe, the U.S. and the world.