Intelligence Officers Speak at Youth Town Hall

2018’s annual Desert Town Hall and Youth Town Hall events took place on January 19 at the Esmeralda Hotel in Indian Wells. The main speakers were General Michael Hayden and Sir John Scarlett, who shared their thoughts on cybersecurity and international relations.

After a short dinner provided by the event coordinators, the Youth Town Hall event was opened by Isaac De Lira ‘18 from Amistad High, who introduced the first speaker, Clara V. Clara shared a brief synopsis of her life, describing her childhood in South Texas and the socio-economic challenges faced by the cities in her area; she attributed her rough childhood environment to her resilience and confidence she exhibited in her work.

Clara continued by talking about her time studying aerospace engineering and her recruitment into the CIA. She offered words of wisdom, explaining that the purpose of the town hall is not to introduce the audience to the speakers but to introduce the audience to themselves. She closed by inviting up the next student ambassador and urging the audience to “make a choice, take a chance, and make a change for the better.”

The stage was then taken by Reina Rover ‘17 from Xavier College Prep, who spoke briefly and introduced the main speakers for the night: Hayden, former director of the CIA and NSA, and Scarlett, former chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service. The men introduced themselves and described their work as intelligence officers, detailing their need to adapt quickly and learn secrets to protect Americans. Afterward, the men took questions from students.

When asked about the rapid evolution of technology and the effect it had on their work, they said it presented a constant challenge. They explained that everything in their line of work is fundamentally about technology, specifically noting Russia’s use of Twitter to “achieve traditional goals in new ways,” according to Hayden.

When a student asked about what they have learned through their work, they answered that they found themselves less reliant on new skills and more so on basic skills and that they focus less on efficiency and more on effectiveness. “You don’t learn to lead through huge projects, you learn through small teams,” said Hayden.

The pair was asked for their thoughts on Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks. Hayden explained that nothing revealed was contrary to U.S. constitutional law, but the event prompted a necessary discussion on the transparency of intelligence communities and the American public. Hayden also noted that this again went back to the discussion of the role of technology in intelligence work, and it was the surprise and shock of the reveals that caused such panic.

Scarlett shared as much as he could when questioned about the hardest aspect of their jobs, detailing an unnamed but hugely important job he led. Hayden described talking to President George W. Bush in 2006 about the Iraq War and trying to explain the negative consequences without pushing him away.

The mood was brightened when the final question was asked, a lighthearted inquiry as to what was the most “secret agent” thing they had ever done. Scarlett recounted an exciting account of his participation in British intelligence missions in the 1970s, which was exactly what Hollywood movies describe: dangerous espionage done through stealthy and secret codes.

Hayden claimed he didn’t have any stories that would live up to Scarlett’s and instead shared a humorous tale of meeting an actor who played the director of the CIA on a television show. “You don’t know me, but I’m Michael Hayden,” he had said, “I played the director of the CIA, too.”

After their Youth Town Hall presentation, the pair left the room to speak for the Desert Town Hall main event, which was live streamed and played in the Youth Town Hall conference room for the students to enjoy. This event was opened by the Indian Wells mayor, Kimberly Musik.

In this event, the two speakers discussed a multitude of topics regarding current geopolitical happenings. They began by addressing the state of America, both concluding that claims that we are living in the most dangerous time in decades are exaggerated, but agreed that America served as a global source of disruption throughout the last few years.

“Know your history and keep perspective,” they recommended. They moved on to briefly discuss American security, saying American security was far more dependent on American power than on international relations. The speakers then moved to the topic of North Korea and its nuclear arsenal and China’s involvement in the situation, followed by discussions on the Middle East, specifically on Iranian nuclear deals.

After a brief talk on the geopolitical consequences of climate change, the discussion turned to a long discussion on Russia’s involvement in democratic politics and their apparent desire to be seen as equals to the United States. Finally, the talk ended with an inspiring conversation on the relationship between the U.S. and the United Kingdom and the help the allies have provided one another over the years.

This culminated with a recounting of September 13, 2001, just two days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. One non-American aircraft was allowed in the U.S. airspace: a British aircraft carrying British intelligence officers. Scarlett spoke of a touching quote by Britain’s delegation ambassador, who simply said, “The prime minister has ordered me to ask you just one question: what do you need?”

With that, Scarlett and Hayden concluded the Desert Town Hall event and were met with applause from the audience and the students alike. The Hawkview would like to thank Ms. Schuler and Desert Town Hall for the opportunity to participate in the Youth Town Hall event.