A Former CIA Director’s Talk

I don’t go to as many public talks on campus as I should, but I couldn’t resist hearing from Jack Devine, who spoke tonight as part of the Assembly Series. The retired acting director of the CIA gave a lecture titled “The Importance and Ethics of National Intelligence,” and it was fascinating. You can read more about him on the WUSTL record story.

To be honest, I hadn’t done much research or learned much about the CIA before tonight, which was exactly the point: I wanted exposure to something new. This, unsurprisingly, meant that I didn’t follow everything he said, and the notes I took on the lecture are more of a stream-of-consciousness mess than a coherent document. I won’t waste my words trying to summarize all the intricacies of what he said; see Studlife‘s coverage and WUPR‘s interview with Devine for a more in-depth look. However, I do want to share a few cool insights I did take away; see the next paragraph.

Human intelligence hasn’t changed in thousands of years; only the technology has. Covert action is the middle ground between diplomacy and war, and has been used to prevent many armed conflicts. The CIA is not a rogue entity; everything they do is approved in writing by the President of the United States. Today’s intelligence environment is far different from the cold-war era. The US knew the Russians and interacted with them (here, Devine shared a story about sharing vodka with Russian diplomats), but we aren’t able to do that with the terrorist organizations in the Middle East.

The coolest part, sappily enough, was being in the same room with someone who has volumes of knowledge about the world, and being able to ask him anything I wanted. I didn’t have anything to ask, but am grateful that I had an opportunity. This kind of exposure to world leaders really makes the phrase “learning outside the classroom” come alive.