Walking the line on national security

Poucher lecture shines light on national security risks, rewards

Since 9/11, the issue of national security has never been far from the national spotlight and the Florida Law Review’s Poucher Legal Education Series made that clear. The ongoing threat of terrorist attacks, chemical weapons use in Syria, the cycle of controversies swirling around the National Security Agency, and advancing technology point to national security being as important now as ever.

The Oct. 4 panel inside the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on the University of Florida campus was sponsored by UF Law’s Florida Law Review and featured former Florida Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, former CIA operative James Olson, U.S. Army Gen. (Ret.) James T. Hill, and American University Law Professor Kenneth Anderson. The panel discussion was moderated by former Florida Law Review Editor in Chief Jon Philipson (JD 11).

Graham, who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee before and after 9/11, kicked off the discussion with a bit of prescience from his old Senate committee. He cited an investigation that predicted 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,” Graham said. “That event occurred on Aug. 21, 2013, when a chemical weapon was used to kill over 1,400 people in Syria.”

Graham emphasized that the threat of biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction is 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, fears that biological and chemical weapons are actually a “good” strategy from a military standpoint for regimes callous enough to use them.

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

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

Turning to questions of privacy, panelists struggled with the proper line between security, transparency and privacy.

“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?” Anderson asked.

Anderson and Hill, the retired Army general, cautioned that Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor who has revealed many of the agency’s information-collection practices, and Bradley Manning, who gave sensitive diplomatic communications to WikiLeaks, are not whistle blowers as they have sometimes been portrayed in the media, but are serious threats to national security.

Ultimately, the panelists said that the future of the United States and the planet may hang on U.S. national security and quality intelligence.

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.