Thomas Twetten, a former chief of CIA clandestine operations, discussed national security threats and global terrorist networks during a presentation at the University of Central Florida.
Twetten spoke to more than 200 people Thursday, Jan. 27. His presentation, organized by the UCF Global Perspectives Office, was a feature of the 2010-2011 programming theme “Global Peace and Security.”
Twetten said he wanted to help “demystify the spy part” of counter-intelligence. He defined the three main roles of clandestine service as collecting foreign intelligence, conducting counter-intelligence and engaging in covert action.
Collecting foreign intelligence — finding someone who has protected information and convincing that person to share it — is the “bread and butter” of what the clandestine service does, although “if we succeed, we’d rather not talk about it,” he said.
Counter-intelligence, Twetten explained, is finding out what other governments are doing that may harm U.S. national security. Covert action, he said, can involve any activities other than foreign intelligence collection and counter-intelligence, ranging from propaganda to sabotage to paramilitary operations.
Twetten said all CIA activities must be shared quarterly with Congress and must be approved by the president. He used this point to discuss the CIA’s involvement in Afghanistan in the 1980s, when he played a key role in the largest covert operation of its kind ever conducted.
Afghans, using weapons provided by the United States, were eventually successful in fighting back Soviet forces, but there was no substantive plan for post-war Afghanistan in the late 1980’s. Establishing peace and rebuilding Afghanistan wasn’t part of the CIA’s command, Twetten said.
Contemporary terrorism dates back to Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, which ushered in the modern era of European colonialism in the Middle East, Twetten said. For most of that period, the United States held the moral high ground, helping peace efforts throughout the region. However, the 2003 U.S.-led invasion was “easily the worst chapter in American foreign policy since World War II,” he said.
The United States had lost the moral high ground, and while President Obama’s Cairo speech was “fantastic,” it was not followed by action. U.S. foreign policy continues to amplify Muslim humiliation across the globe, Twetten said, which is the foundation of Osama bin Laden’s appeal.
While drone attacks in Afghanistan might be beneficial for short-term tactical goals, Twetten said they aren’t the solution; nor is the overall answer going to be a military one. The only way to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan is by having all sides sit at the negotiating table, he said.
Radicalism is not going away soon, Twetten said, and “we need to help by our actions and policy, not just by our words.”
Sponsors of the event included the UCF Global Perspectives Office, The Sibille H. Pritchard Global Peace Fellowship program, Lawrence J. Chastang and the Chastang Foundation, the Orlando Area Committee on Foreign Relations, LarsonAllen LLP, the UCF Global Peace and Security Studies Program, the UCF Diplomacy Program, the UCF Political Science Department, the UCF Middle Eastern Studies Program, the UCF Terrorism Studies Program, the UCF International Services Center, UCF LIFE and the Global Connections Foundation.