Top-Secret Teachers? CIA Agents in Demand on College Campuses
A smartly dressed man named Joe whose parents don’t know what he does for a living riveted a University of Maryland class recently with tales about U.S. government secrets. Joe, the guest lecturer in a course called “Legal Issues in Managing Information,” works for the CIA. So does the course’s instructor, whose full name can be published.
At George Washington University in Washington, D.C., another CIA employee teaches a course on competitive intelligence in business. And the same thing is happening at nearby Georgetown University.
Intelligence is flourishing as a new academic discipline at hundreds of colleges across the country. Only a small fraction of the instructors are CIA employees, but many others have worked in government intelligence or diplomacy of some kind and have fashioned courses based on that service.
Their skills mesh perfectly with the business world’s increased emphasis on information management and how distinguishing good information from bad information affects the bottom line. Indeed, the typical student in an intelligence course is not a wannabe spy but an aspiring business executive, systems analyst or librarian.
Ann Prentice, dean of the University of Maryland’s College of Library and Information Systems, said the school sought out Lee Strickland, the CIA official teaching the graduate course on legal issues, for the practical experience he could bring to information management.
“It’s our core business,” she said. “We thought Lee could bring another perspective that would be valuable.”
The new academic field also is growing because of a dramatic increase in source material. Since the end of the Cold War, millions of pages of secret documents, as well as archival material from the former Soviet Union, have been declassified. There also has been an explosion in books about intelligence work; more than 1,000 are listed in Books in Print, compared with 215 in 1994. Three textbooks on the subject are being published, and intelligence Web sites proliferate on the Internet.
The trend could not have occurred without a change in campus politics, college officials say. In the 1960s, rumors of CIA recruitment at a school were enough to trigger student demonstrations, and the notion of a CIA agent teaching was almost unthinkable. Today’s students on the whole are much more politically conservative.
Strickland is part of the CIA’s Officers in Residence program, in which employees take two-year leaves to teach. The teachers are selected by the agency, then approved by the university.
Nine universities currently participate. And more than 30, including Harvard and Princeton universities, have done so since the program began in 1985. Lloyd D. Salvetti, the CIA official in charge of teacher placements, says more schools want to participate than he has agents to send. A few universities have turned down the arrangement, he said, declining to name them.
Prentice said no one--student or faculty member--has complained to her about having a CIA agent on the College Park, Md., campus.
Students in Strickland’s course say they benefit from his service in the CIA’s office of general counsel. Michelle McDaniels, 31, who is studying to be a librarian, said he has taught her about classifying information and many other issues she will face in her field.
“I have learned something that has real-world applicability in every class,” said McDaniels, who calls Strickland’s course “the most useful” she has taken.
Floyd L. Paseman, who ran the CIA’s East Asian operations and is now on a two-year teaching stint at Marquette University in Milwaukee, draws similar plaudits from students. In fact, Marquette students selected him as the best instructor in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Pamela Noe, the CIA officer in residence at George Washington University, teaches “U.S. Intelligence--Past, Present and Future,” as well as “Introduction to Competitive Intelligence,” in which students design strategies for companies or organizations of their choice.
Some of the instructors have had CIA critics as guest lecturers. Paseman brought a former KGB general, who said he believed the CIA had lost its will to take big covert actions such as assassinations. Strickland debated in class with Steven Aftergood of the American Federation of Sciences Intelligence Research Program, which has sued the CIA over its secrecy policies.
Aftergood said he supports CIA agents teaching.
“I think it is a welcome development that contributes to the demystification of intelligence,” he said. “It brings . . . intelligence officers out of their classified enclave. . . . Exploring intelligence in the academic environment could eventually lead to qualitative changes in intelligence.”
The Harvard of the intelligence field is the Joint Military Intelligence College, in the highly secure headquarters of the Defense Intelligence Agency at Bolling Air Force Base in southeast Washington.
It is the only college in the country that grants fully accredited bachelor’s and master’s degrees in intelligence and the only one that teaches intelligence using the highest levels of classified information. All students must get top-secret clearance.
While the Joint Military Intelligence College has granted master’s degrees in strategic intelligence since 1983, it began awarding bachelor’s degrees in 1998. The Department of Education had concluded a need existed for a government institution that could offer courses with classified curricula.
Salvetti welcomes the increase in intelligence courses and thinks it will help the public understand how the spy world operates.
“At the end of the day, we [the CIA] have suffered for the fact that we are at the hands of those who would popularize this profession, mythologize it, Hollywood-ize it,” he said.