Fordham University: Prettifying C.I.A. Clandestine Operations

I”m not sure what was worse; sitting in an auditorium for a speech by the head of CIA clandestine operations, or having most of the audience give a standing ovation afterward.  There were some low points in between, too.

Michael Sulick, Direction of CIA Clandestine Operations

Michael Sulick, Director of CIA Clandestine Operations

Thursday night I went with my friend Ray McGovern, and some current and former Fordham students to a lecture at Fordham University by Michael Sulick, Director of the National Clandestine Service, the guy in charge of counter-terrorism and covert ops.  Ray and Sulick are both graduates of Fordham, and both worked for the C.I.A.  One difference between them is that Ray quit long ago.

Fordham, a Jesuit school, has a very active Peace and Justice program led by a tenured professor, which just the evening before had held a commemoration of the assassination 30 years ago of Archbishop Oscar Romero in San Salvador.  It was noted that Romero was killed by graduates of the School of the Americas, with help from the CIA.

But that same university produces a lot of FBI and CIA agents. For Sulick, the student center was decorated with the kind of puffy, shiny balloon letters junior high schools use for birthday parties, with silvery “C-I-A” floating in the lobby.  I felt it was going to be a strange night.

Ray was tipped off about the lecture by anti-war students.  He offered himself as a “respondent” to the lecture, but the administration declined that offer.   Ten or 11 professors protested the CIA lecture, and around noon Thursday the administration invited one of them to respond to it on stage.  She declined, as she would have no time to prepare.  The lecture was off the radar; not on Fordham’s website, and a non-event as far as the Public Relations office was concerned.  They wanted no press.

The administration called the student leaders to find out if any protest was planned, with the intimidating implication that they would be held responsible for any disruption.

Ray invited me to meet with about 15 students before the speech.  We learned that, for the first time in public lectures at Fordham, questions would only be taken in writing, giving no one the opportunity to speak from the floor.  And you know what that means.

We discussed questions we’d like to ask:

* Director Sulick, Could you comment on the April 17, 2009 NBC News report that the CIA is paying Pakistani agents to identify targets for drone bombings in Pakistan, and that those agents were dropping electronic chips in farmhouses solely to get paid?

* Director Sulick, Could you comment on a statement by Georgetown professor Gary Solis in the Washington Post of March 12, 2010, that civilians working for the CIA in the drone program are unlawful combatants under international law?

* You resigned from the CIA in 2005 as world public opinion turned against the Bush administration’s use of “alternative interrogation methods.”  What do you know about the Agency’s destruction of video tapes of waterboarding that surfaced just after you returned to the CIA in 2007?

* Agence France Presse, covering Congressional hearings Tuesday March 23 on the CIA’s drone program, reported that American University law professor Kenneth Anderson testified that those who target for the drone operations “could face possible charges abroad.”  Would that include you and those you supervise?

Well, of course, none of these questions were read to Sulick by the student government leaders moderating the Q&A.

Sulick droned on (sorry) about the glories of public “service” and his distinction of being the first CIA officer to set foot in the Soviet Republics after 1991 — because he had taken Russian at Fordham.  We learned that the best thing about his doctorate in literature was that he could make small talk with Russian intelligence targets about Dostoevsky.  We learned that in the 1950′s the U.S. had “removed the regime and restored the Shah [of Iran] to his throne.”  That would be the elected Mossadegh government, overthrown by a CIA-led coup.  A little truth, spun as a positive achievement.

Most of the questions asked read from the audience were insipid.  “How does one join the CIA?”  “There’s a website.  You can apply online.”  Imagine that!  I found Sulick’s comments to be banally evil, obvious, shallow, and self-serving.

Ray McGovern answering for CIA's Michael Sulick "What is terrorism?"

But one question seemed to stump him. “What’s the definition of terrorism?”  From my seat in the second row, he looked like a deer in headlights.  For some unfathomable reason, Sulick invited Ray to come up on stage and answer the question, as Ray “used to work in analysis with the Agency.”

Ray told a story of that morning, having breakfast with two atheists who were questioning him about the front page New York Times story on the pope hiding child abusing priests, Memo to Pope Described Transfer of Child-Abusing Priest. “Why does the church care only about the first nine months of life?  And not for the living” who are being killed by the CIA drone program?

Ray was eloquent and sincere as always, and the mike was cut off at about the 60 second mark — after he was invited by the lecturer to the podium, and told by the administration that he would be welcome to ask a question!

About 20% of the audience clapped and cheered as he sat down.  The blue-blazered student government officer sitting in front of him — the one who weeded out the challenging questions — turned around and said to Ray, “you’re an asshole”.  Which was the only thing any of them said to him the rest of the evening.  We didn’t stand for the ovation.

It was good to be with the people at Fordham last night who are trying to stand for justice.  We sat til late talking with a couple of students about the silence of the Jesuits against the government, and the slickness of the school administration in co-opting students.

I can see from Fordham’s history (Father Dan Berrigan, the anti-war priest was on the faculty) and ties to liberation theologists in Central America, why they would commemorate Romero.  But when the same school brings a CIA director to lecture and there is no challenge posed, critical thinking is MIA. Faculty, alumni, and students applauded an operative responsible for civilian deaths by drone bombing, and for the torture of detainees, and probably more that we don’t know about yet.  I felt battered by spending two hours with them.

However, it was good to work with the anti-war students, and spend time with Ray McGovern, who left the CIA many years ago, and devotes his life to exposing and stopping much of what they do now.  Ray is not just an adviser to War Criminals Watch, he’s a genuine resister.  See Ray in action confronting Donald Rumsfeld May 5, 2006.

We need more of this response to war criminals!

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  1. #1 by Blue Blazered Student Government Officer on March 28, 2010 - 11:30 pm

    Hello Debra,

    Wonderful to here from you again. I am the blue-blazered student government worker who “weeds out tough questions”. I’d like to address your remarks regarding the Dr. Sulick event at Fordham University last week.

    First, this was a student planned and run event, we objected to having an “interlocuter” present because it fundamentally changes the format of the event. We do not object to tough questions or free speech. If your interested you can see my voting record and our minutes from the previous Senate year. I have fought for the creation of a free speech zone on campus, and have never opposed any lecture, even ones by lecturers who I don’t agree with on any issue.

    My problem is that the Peace & Justice faculty at Fordham University want to fundamentally change the event, an event that is about Dr. Sulick’s Fordham experience and how it shaped his career, not policy decisions made by the CIA. I do recall Mr. McGovern spoke at Fordham as well, however, I do not remember them circulating an E-mail asking for a differing opinion or an “interlocuter”. And if they did, I wouldn’t support it, because lectures aren’t panel discussions they are supposed to give a one sided opinion of an issue and subsequent lectures or Q & A’s are supposed to answer questions for the listeners.

    As for the matter of “screening” questions. This decision was made for two reasons. The first was audience tends to ramble when asking questions thus limiting the amount of questions and subsequently boring the audience. At the Howard Dean lecture, by no means a conservative, we allowed the audience to physically stand up and ask the questions. At other lectures e did the notes cards, on average double the questions were asked at the note card events. If you want a better chance of having more tough questions asked then you would support note cards. As for the matter of “screening” do you have any idea how many duplicate questions were asked? I am sure you don’t know exactly how many but suffice to say it is a large amount because I have been told that the PSJ and Anti-War students were told to ask the same questions. Logically this makes, the more a question is asked the more likely it is to be asked, but in turn the more likely it is that the individual question was discarded. Therefore, you probably saw me rip up a bunch of notecards that were either nameless(names were a requirement) or duplicates. For the record there were no questions I personally screened for content, there were stupid questions that were screened such as “What is your favorite ice cream flavor?” and “What kind of cars do the CIA give you?”. Tough questions were submitted, which you saw because you hovered over my shoulder, whether or not they were asked I do not know because I left midway through the lecture due to your friend Mr. McGovern’s behavior, which leads me to why I said “you’re an asshole”, which he is.

    Mr. McGovern was given an opportunity to give his rant on the CIA and atheists. Then when the President of Fordham United Student Government told Dr. Sulick to move on if he desired. Mr. McGovern then began screaming “Answer the question!” You and McGovern must have said this four times. The first time I said “You’re ruining the lecture can you please be quiet” Then I stopped speaking and you continued to yell like mad men. (Sorry if that offends you being a woman, but I’m not always politically correct) Finally on the fourth yell, one of you got a little carried away and hit the back of my seat, having what some would say is a fuse shorter than most, I lost it. I turned around and said “you’re an asshole”.

    I don’t regret my comments and I will own up to them. You folks tried to ruin a student run lecture. When you have your liberal speakers (Howard Dean, Jessica Valente, Norman Finkelstein, just to name a few) on campus, I don’t come to the event and ask to be inserted as an interlocuter. Quite the contray, I defend the event. If you feel really strongly about having Mr. McGovern at Fordham, I can assure you I will help you plan, and I will push the Senate to co-sponsor. But next time you folks scream about the first amendment and free speech remember that it seems the people in USG have been pretty supportive of free speech on both sides, while others only support it when its friendly speech.

    Good day,

    Mike Recca

  2. #2 by Lina on March 31, 2010 - 11:10 pm


    Just two quick points:

    -advocating for a “free speech zone” is not pro-free speech. It’s against it – confining what is supposed to be a *right that is attached to individuals who move about in the world* to very limited spaces (often where no one hears you anyway!).

    -Sulick is a war criminal. This isn’t a question of differing opinions on “issues.” Crimes have been carried out and are being carried out in our names, people are being killed as we speak – and you have picked your side. Of course, it’s not too late to change.


  3. #3 by Steve on May 28, 2010 - 4:53 pm


    Just two quick points:

    -advocating for a “free speech zone” is not pro-free speech. It’s against it – confining what is supposed to be a *right that is attached to individuals who move about in the world* to very limited spaces (often where no one hears you anyway!).

    -Sulick is a war criminal. This isn’t a question of differing opinions on “issues.” Crimes have been carried out and are being carried out in our names, people are being killed as we speak – and you have picked your side. Of course, it’s not too late to change.


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