More than 150 individuals filled Sutardja Dai Hall on Tuesday to hear from John Deutch, former director of Central Intelligence and MIT professor emeritus, who spoke about challenges facing the U.S. intelligence community.
At the event, hosted by The Berkeley Forum, Deutch discussed topics ranging from privacy issues and security to the interplay between the intelligence community, the Department of Defense and law enforcement.
Jacob Bergquist, The Berkeley Forum’s debate manager of the events committee and campus sophomore, said he chose to invite Deutch because he thought Deutch would provide a viewpoint “outside of the norm” for UC Berkeley students.
To begin the hourlong speech, Deutch joked that his friends wondered why he would speak at UC Berkeley, but reassured the crowd saying he was interested in knowing what campus students have to say about the intelligence community and national defense.
Deutch said that when he was confirmed as director of the CIA in 1995, there was a clearer line between foreign and domestic threats, and wartime and peacetime. These distinctions, Deutch explained, have disappeared in the modern technological world.
“(Intelligence communities) and subnational terrorist groups are taking advantage of the digital world in which we live and intercept huge amounts of information … inviting a cat-and-mouse game between those who seek to protect information and communication and those who seek to exploit it,” Deutch said.
Deutch emphasized the importance of obtaining information from political threats and said that while the activities criticized in the CIA Torture Report released in 2014 were “not pretty,” such information is crucial to the country’s security. He also said maintaining spaces outside of American legal protection, such as Guantanamo Bay, are necessary for intelligence operations.
“Capturing, interrogating and detaining foreign terrorists cannot be avoided,” Deutch said. “But it is really important that we do it in a way which is more transparent and people understand the kind of techniques that might be used by military interrogators, legal forces and also by the intelligence community.”
Deutch comes from a scientific background in physical chemistry, which he said helped him succeed in the defense department. During a question-and-answer session, Deutch encouraged STEM students such as UC Berkeley junior Alexander Ehrenberg to pursue government work in the future.
“As a biology major, I’m interested in policy but it seemed like a really distant thing for me,” Ehrenberg said. “Hearing about how he got into it and how invaluable his background as a scientist and engineer was is interesting and exciting.”
During the event, Deutch discussed his personal experience as a former CIA director and deputy secretary of defense. He said there are special risks and powers those positions have, but what may appear to be a “glamorous” job is difficult and fraught with tough decisions.
“I think having somebody who has experience and knowledge in intelligence is really important because we are all forming these opinions based on stuff that we read online, based on stuff that we hear, and here’s somebody who’s actually lived this,” Bergquist said.