Top experts discuss national security at Poucher Lecture

Published: October 14th, 2013

Category: Feature

Poucher_Reception_Lecture_0037_1By Matt Walker

Since 9/11, the issue of national security has never been far from the spotlight.

The Florida Law Review’s Poucher Legal Education Series made it clear that with the ongoing threat of terrorist attacks, chemical weapons being used in Syria, the recent controversies around the National Security Administration and WikiLeaks, and advancing technology – national security is as important now as it has ever been.

The Oct. 4 panel discussion held at the UF Phillips Center for the Performing Arts featured former Florida Governor and Senator Bob Graham, former CIA operative Professor James Olson, U.S. Army General (Ret.) James T. Hill, and American University Law Professor Kenneth Anderson discussing some of the most crucial national security issues facing the U.S.

After an introduction by former Florida Law Review editor-in-chief Jon M. Philipson, Graham – who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee before and after 9/11 – kicked off the broad-ranging discussion by addressing concerns over biological and chemical weapons brought to the forefront by the recent turmoil in Syria. Graham said he chaired a study that investigated how to avoid the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

“Our first finding was that it was more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction would be used someplace on earth before the end of the year, 2013,” he said. “That event occurred on Aug. 21, 2013 when a chemical weapon was used to kill over 1,400 people in Syria.”

He emphasized that the threat of biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction are very real, primarily because they are extremely easy to assemble and are harder than traditional weapons to defend against.

Anderson, who spent time in Iraq in the early ’90s with Human Rights Watch, agreed that the threat is real and said that his biggest fear is that biological and chemical weapons are actually a “good” strategy from a military standpoint for regimes who are immoral enough to use them.

“It’s not just a terrorist weapon,” he said, “it might turn out that regimes make calculations in urban counterinsurgency that it’s actually an effective weapon for them.”

Olson stated that he has never seen America in as much peril domestically and overseas as it is right now and that quality intelligence is extremely important, but penetrating the groups is very difficult with such tight-knit cells of terrorists who often grew up in the same villages together.

The panelists also addressed concerns of privacy versus security.

“What are the tools that the public is willing to accept and embrace and the tradeoffs that have to be in a democracy between liberty and security in these areas?” asked Anderson.

He said a major tradeoff in complete transparency on security issues, which isn’t realistically possible, but instead that information is given to and addressed for the people by certain groups like the commission Graham chaired.

Anderson and Hill, the retired Army general, also cautioned that figures such as Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning are not whistle blowers as they have sometimes been portrayed in the media, but are serious threats to national security because of their actions.

Ultimately, all the panelists agreed that now more than ever, national security and quality intelligence measures are extremely important for the future of the United States and the planet.

The Allen L. Poucher Legal Education Series was established by Betty K. Poucher in honor of her late husband, Allen L. Poucher Sr. A humanitarian who lived a life dedicated to service, Allen Poucher graduated from UF Law in 1942 and practiced law for more than 60 years. The Poucher Legal Education Series seeks to provide a venue for prominent legal, political and business leaders to discuss important issues facing our nation and world today.