By Olivia Discon
Following LEAP’s visit last week to the Bush School of Government and Public Service, where current FBI Director Christopher Wray spoke on current affairs, we returned to hear the Director of the CIA, Bill Burns, speak on his perspective on international matters and his efforts in transforming the CIA to meet the constantly shifting challenges in the 21st century.
Bill Burns has a distinguished career in foreign service, having worked for over three decades in the US Department of State. He has served in various diplomatic posts around the world, including as Ambassador to Russia, Jordan, and NATO. Appointed by President Joe Biden in 2021, Bill Burns is highly regarded as an expert in foreign policy and national security.
Hundreds of people gathered in the auditorium of the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center. The audience was filled with students, veterans, A&M alumni, Bush School faculty and staff, and CIA operatives. Former CIA Intelligence Officer (and current Bush School faculty) Greg Vogle was an able moderator, not only creating an open dialogue for candid conversations, but also able to guide the audience into a deeper understanding of CIA operations and their importance.
And, we caught a glimpse of former Chief of Counterintelligence at CIA and Professor of the Practice Emeritus at The Bush School, Jim Olson.
Bill Burns spoke at large about the tensions with other international superpowers, Russia and China, and the key components of the threats to the United States. In a world of ever-evolving technology, the precedents to combat cybersecurity threats are also constantly changing. The CIA is rising to meet these challenges and others by creating new missions centers (one for technology, one with a focus on China, improving private sector partnerships, and attempting to address some of the supply-chain and other global issues affecting us all. He also invited those with a call to public service, a sense of patriotism, to consider the CIA–a career and a family.
To recapitulate: With the support of the United States and other allies, Ukraine has shown Russia that they do not possess the means of strength to dominate NATO, let alone a small neighboring country; For China, that same war has shown the potential consequences of economic sanctions and the strength of international institutions, such as the UN, in resolving conflicts. (China, which has faced its own territorial disputes with neighboring countries, may be increasingly concerned about the potential for similar conflicts to escalate into full-scale wars.) While Burns did not sugarcoat the severity of these issues, he did provide a tone of considerable experience, most likely the greatest form of comfort in matters such as these.
The weight of the international threats facing the United States was palpable, but so was the reassurance that comes from hearing from a man of such distinguished experience. Despite the severity of the issues discussed, Burns’ tone was one of calm and measured consideration. It was a reminder that, even in a world of constant change and shifting threats, there are those who possess the wisdom and experience to help guide us through the challenges ahead, those who are patriots, who do quality work. As the event came to a close, the audience left with a renewed appreciation for the complexities of international affairs and the importance of continued engagement and dialogue in order to ensure our nation’s safety and security.