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From John McLaughlin

John McLaughlin

Former acting Director of Central Intelligence John McLaughlin used the Vince Davis Lecture to expound on future challenges facing American intelligence. McLaughlin, serving more than 30 years as a Soviet expert and career intelligence professional, rose to the top of CIA from the analytical side. Detailing the evolution of the US Intelligence Community (IC) over the last half century and the fluid nature of world politics, he expressed both concern and excitement for the new world Patterson students will encounter as terrorism, the Arab Spring, the threat of a nuclear Iran, and the rise of China shape a very uncertain future.

McLaughlin noted that it was the onset of World War II that crystallized the need for an American intelligence service and ended our nation's "Age of Innocence." He reviewed how the demands of the Cold War then pushed the US to develop the modern techniques and capabilities – from covert action to geospatial analysis – that characterize the US Intelligence Community today. That clear focus disappeared with the collapse of the Soviet Union. September 11th, however, reversed this period of uncertainty over the role of Intelligence (as well as the outflow of resources from CIA). McLaughlin underscored how radically transformative 9/11 had been for the IC, as a decade of war led to a far more dangerous environment for intelligence collectors, more aggressive authorities within the IC, and a workforce that has been socialized by war. In just 20 years, American intelligence has gone from watching for large threats with a deficit of information to searching for very small things in a vast sea of data. He praised the unparalleled level of integration that has now developed between the IC and the US military, illustrated most strikingly by the May 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden.

To determine where America's next great challenge will emerge, McLaughlin advised Patterson students to look beneath the surface, focusing on changing demographics, access to resources such as water, and the availability of dangerous materials. He also stressed the need to remain focused on the continued challenges posed by terrorism and by large states with uncertain futures.

McLaughlin offered three possible world scenarios in the 21st Century: a stable world with continued US dominance, a messy world with a diminished US role and a growing China, or a nasty world where an advanced China fails to materialize and the global world order comes under threat. His closing remark was to remember the key to innovation, "Consider what we cannot do, that if we could, would revolutionize the way we do things."

The Vince Davis Memorial lecture is the Patterson School's premier event to expose students and the general public to the wisdom and insights of leading figures in international affairs.

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