Former CIA chief: Intelligence system vital to U.S.

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Former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell testifies before Congress in 2014 in Washington, DC. Morrell will be at CISAC and Stanford during Feb. 6-11 discussing national security and the importance of a strong relationship between the U.S. president and the intelligence community.
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Win McNamee/Getty Images

It's rare to get a brain download from a former CIA chief, both in the classroom and at the lectern.

But that will occur at CISAC during Feb. 6-11, when Michael Morell will spend time with students, faculty and scholars discussing the changing global landscape for U.S. national security.

Morell, who worked at the CIA for 33 years, served as its deputy director and acting director twice, first in 2011 and then from 2012 to 2013. He was at President George W. Bush’s side when the U.S. was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. And he was serving as the CIA’s deputy director when President Obama gave the order to kill Osama bin Laden in 2011.

Among Morell’s scheduled activities are a CISAC seminar, participation in a two-day simulation for a political science class, and a lecture. 

In his seminar talk, Morell described terrorism as the top threat facing the U.S. He also discussed the potential of conflict with a rising China, an aggressive Russia, and a nuclear North Korea. He defined the role of the CIA as putting "facts and factual analysis" on the table of the president so the best decisions can be made. Effective intelligence, he noted, strives to understand what is happening now, and what will happen in the future.

Class simulation

Amy Zegart, CISAC co-director who co-teaches POLISC 114S, said Morell will be doing a "CISAC world tour -- giving a public FSI Wesson lecture about all issues intelligence-related, meeting with faculty and fellows, guest lecturing in CISAC's signature course, 'International Security in a Changing World,' and leading a country team during our class's South China Sea crisis simulation with 125 undergraduate and graduate students."

For the class simulation, Morell will be joined by Under Secretary of State Nick Burn; they will play world leaders, and about 20 other faculty and postdoc fellows will work with student "country" teams. Zegart said some version of the simulation has been taught at Stanford for 20 years. One year students went "rogue" and hacked into emails in a covert attempt to derail a hypothetical deal between Russia and China.

This year's exercise for POLISC 114S involves a special emergency session of the United Nations Security Council following the collision of a U.S. Navy warship with a Chinese Navy ship. The scenario takes place in the context of esclating real-world tensions in the South China Sea in recent years. China has built artificial islands hosting military bases, and the region is home to the world's busiest commerical shipping corridors. The simulation and its pre-planned scenario changes are designed to be plausible and timely.

Learning from someone with Morell's experience is invalauble for the students, she said. "Having him involved in the class is a priceless opportunity for our students to gain real-world insight into how intelligence works in crises, and to work with one of the nation's most distinguished intelligence leaders."

Terrorism, cybersecurity

In an email, Morell said he plans to talk about the key national security issues facing the new Trump administration, the importance of intelligence in dealing successfully with those issues, and the importance of a close relationship between a president and an intelligence community.

As for the most pressing risks now facing the U.S., Morell said it is “still the threat posed by international terrorists groups, but the threat posed by a variety of cyber actors is number two and growing.”

Morell described CISAC's research and teaching in national security and intelligence as “one of the best in the nation. It is an honor to spend some time there.”

After leaving the CIA in 2013, Morell authored a memoir entitled The Great War of Our Time while working in the private sector. In the book, he offers a candid assessment of CIA's counterterrorism successes and failures of the past 20 years and, noting that the threat of terrorism did not die with the death of Osama bin Laden. He has criticized the Senate Intelligence Committee's 2014 report on the CIA's use of enhanced interrogation techniques, and has spoken in favor of the CIA’s use of drones to kill terrorists.

Morell endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, explaining his view in a New York Times op-ed. “My training as an intelligence officer taught me to call it as I see it,” he wrote in that piece.

On the issue of Russian hacking during the 2016 election, Morell noted in a Times' essay on Jan. 6 that President-elect Trump’s public rejection of the C.I.A. is a danger to the nation. "The key national security issues of the day — terrorism; proliferation; cyberespionage, crime and war; and the challenges to the global order posed by Russia, Iran and China — all require first-rate intelligence for a commander in chief to understand them, settle on a policy and carry it out."

Morell has a bachelor of arts from the University of Akron and a master of arts from Georgetown University, both in economics.

Zegart’s co-instructor in POLISC 114S is Stanford political scientist Stephen Krasner. The class surveys the most pressing global security problems facing the world today. Past guest lecturers include former Secretary of Defense William Perry, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Gen. Karl Eikenberry, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Study topics include changing types of warfare, ethics and conduct of war, nuclear proliferation, insurgency and terrorism, Russia, and ISIS.

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