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Deutch Expounds on Past Experiences as CIA Head

Miodrag Cirkovic -- The Tech
John M. Deutch '61 spoke to the MIT community last Thursday in 10-250.

By Stacey E. Blau
Opinion Editor

"It is by no means the most fun job I've had in my life," said Institute Professor John M. Deutch '61 of his 18-month stint as director of central intelligence. "Needless to say, the CIA is a tough place."

Deutch, who left the post of director of central intelligence and returned to MIT in January, regaled students with stories of his work for the government on Thursday night at a talk sponsored by the Lecture Series Committee. He focused the two-hour talk on matters of national security and fielded questions from audience members on related issues.

The talk took place in a nearly-full 10-250, where Deutch will be teaching Thermodynamics and Kinetics (5.60) next semester.

From the DoD to the CIA

Not a man known for mincing his words, Deutch proved blunt and often humorous throughout the evening, sparing no one - not even President Bill Clinton - his cutting appraisals.

When one audience member asked for Deutch's opinion on U.S. policy toward Cuba, Deutch responded with two words: "It's lousy."

Even when he complimented Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC), another man known for his straight talk, by calling him "a distinguished senator - the kind of person I get along with," Deutch poked fun at his own penchant for ruffling feathers.

"I get along with everyone," he smiled impishly.

Even his long-time friend, former Secretary of Defense Les Aspin PhD '66, whom Deutch worked for as undersecretary of defense, did not escape his sharp tongue. "First of all," Deutch said of Aspin, "he did not do a good job as secretary of defense, he was fired, and then he died."

After Aspin departed from the Department of Defense, Deutch was promoted to deputy secretary of defense, the No. 2 post at the department, where he worked under the new secretary, William Perry.

When Perry was away on vacation several years ago, Deutch was thrust into handling a major international situation when China provocatively conducted missile tests near the coast of Taiwan. Deutch was involved in the decision to send two American aircraft carriers to the border of China.

During Deutch's term as director of central intelligence, "many serious conflicts arose," including the mass slaughter of Hutus in Rwanda.

In such situations, Deutch said, the most difficult question is often whether or not to send in Americans and, in doing so, risk their lives. Such decisions are "a lot more stressful in advance of knowing the answer" to the outcome of the situation, Deutch said.

"You might think that after the cold war, matters are simple," Deutch said. In reality, however, the reverse is true. "Before, the goal was to prevent nuclear holocaust with Russia," he said. Now, the enemies and situations that the United States faces are more varied and distributed.

"Terrorism is on the rise around the world," Deutch said, especially directed against the United States. "Many terrorist groups see the United States as being part of the problem," and the United States has consequently become a prime target.

One major change in modern-day terrorism is that terrorist groups "can use weapons of mass destruction," Deutch said. He also pointed to new threats like information warfare.

New technology, however, has vastly improved the job that the intelligence community can perform. During the Persian Gulf War, for example, "both air and armed forces had knowledge of disposition of Iraqi troops," Deutch said, "much more rapidly than could have otherwise been the case."


Deutch said that one of the greatest accomplishments during his term as director of central intelligence was the progress toward getting over the "period of great hostility between the FBI and CIA."

"There has been a great divide between the FBI and CIA," Deutch said, going back to the days of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and CIA Director Allen W. Dulles, "who spied on each other in all kinds of ways I don't even want to tell you about."

Counterintelligence is "a very complicated and difficult subject," Deutch said. But it is "an inseparable part of this activity."

It also has been more difficult since the end of the cold war. These days, Deutch said, there are 8,000 newspapers in Russia. "Before, you had two, and there wasn't much to read about."

The covert wing of the CIA, the Directorate of Operations, which leads U.S. counterintelligence efforts, "has a very mixed history," Deutch said. "I'm the first one to admit it."

Although the Directorate of Operations is only one of three broad areas under the purview of the director of central intelligence, "I still spent 99 percent of my time worrying about the Directorate of Operations,"Deutch said.

Covert action is performed "in order to influence political outcomes in other countries" without giving away the fact that the United States actually was involved.

"It lies uneasily in a democracy," Deutch said. But the Directorate of Operations still does have a place "provided that it doesn't go out and do all kinds of things that are against the rules."

The Directorate of Operations "is not a rouge agency going out and doing something on its own," Deutch said. "Not since the mid-'70s," he added, to the amusement of the audience.

Secretly trying to overthrow governments is often the wrong way to go about getting political change in a foreign country, Deutch said.

President Lyndon B. Johnson, for example, tried to use covert action in Indonesia to achieve political ends. "It turned out to be very much unsuccessful and a disaster," Deutch said.

"Covert action is a needed diplomatic tool for dealing with terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction," Deutch said. But often rather than covert action, "what we need is a change in our public policy."

An MIT chemist enters public life

"Because of my upbringing, I've always been into public service," Deutch said.

Deutch followed in the steps of former President Jerome B. Wiesner, who, like Deutch, had a long history of government service.

Deutch noted that he, like Wiesner, served as dean of the school of science and provost - and that Wiesner later served as president.

But even Deutch had his limits when it came to public service. When Clinton first asked Deutch to be director of central intelligence, Deutch responded, "Hell no; you must be nuts."

At the time, Deutch was still deputy secretary of defense.

"I spent four months with Leon Panetta," Clinton's former chief of staff, "looking for a successor." Finally, one day Clinton called Deutch back into the Oval Office. "Clinton says, You're going to take this job,'" Deutch said.

Deutch quickly told Clinton that he'd have to ask his wife first. "His attention span isn't all that great," Deutch said.

"Sit right here; I'll leave the room while you call your wife," Clinton said. The President left the Oval Office, and Deutch called his wife Pat.

"She said no," Deutch said. Then Clinton returned. "He called Pat."

Deutch, of course, finally agreed to take the job.

"How did an MIT guy get there?" Deutch asked. "A chemist at that."

No directors before Deutch had come from a science or engineering background. "I was the first one who was technical," Deutch said.

Back in the 1960s when Deutch began working for the government under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, "anyone who knew how to add was considered valuable."

Even today, Deutch said, few in the high reaches of the government are technically literate.

When Deutch was director of central intelligence, probably two people in the Cabinet could solve quadratic equations. "If you get deputies there, you might have four," he said. "And three of them will have gone to MIT."

Deutch answers questions

Deutch fielded questions from audience members on topics ranging from encryption to China to housing at MIT.

Several audience members asked Deutch about United States policies toward China.

"You have to be patient," Deutch said. "There's a word I don't use much."

The United States is, however, asking a lot to put its nose in and demand changes from China, especially when the country has made some strides toward greater freedom.

Deutch answered a question about his experience responding to allegations last fall that the CIA introduced crack-cocaine into the streets of Los Angeles during the 1980s.

He made a public appearance in a high school in the Watts section of Los Angeles to answer questions about the allegations. Audience members "screamed at me for an hour while it was televised on ABC," Deutch said. Interestingly enough, however, many came up to him afterwards to say "what a terrific guy you are,'" he said.

"We have to start out by recognizing that the war on drugs isn't working," Deutch said. "We have failed on drugs more than on any other issues."

On the availability of data encryption software, Deutch said that he supports "unlimited availability - including exports" but that he does believe there is a need for key escrow for legitimate systems like banks which those engaged in criminal activities will have to encounter at some point. Such systems, however, should not be there "for individuals communicating back and forth."

He also responded to a claim that the CIA gives research funds to MIT. Deutch said he was not aware of any such funds but said that if MIT does receive them, we should acknowledge it.

"Any time that you get money from a sponsor, you should be willing to identify that sponsor," Deutch said.

Deutch's talk and the audience's questions focused little on MIT, but at the end of the evening, one member asked about Deutch's views on the current debate over MIT's housing system.

Deutch replied with a smile. "I believe all freshmen should live on campus," he said.