The life of a spy involves more planning than anything else, according to Jack Devine, a former Central Intelligence Agency agent who spoke at a Branford Master’s Tea yesterday afternoon.
Devine addressed a crowd of over 100 people in Linsly-Chittenden Hall in an auditorium that was packed full, with people sitting on the floor and crouching in the aisles. Devine is a 32-year veteran of the CIA who served in positions including acting director and associate director of CIA operations outside of the U.S., chief of the Latin American Division and head of the Afghan Task Force. The talk was cohosted by Branford and The Politic.
In his talk, Devine covered topics such as his distaste for the book and movie “Charlie Wilson’s War,” the ways in which Stinger missiles led to the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, events surrounding the 1973 Chilean coup and modern-day covert action.
“There’s a fair amount of blocking and tackling,” Devine said of his spy days, adding that strategic planning for missions is key. “If you’re caught, it becomes a major international incident.”
When asked by Branford College Master Betsy Bradley about what a day in the life of a spy is like, Devine said that his days were primarily filled with writing and reading. Though he did share that he has “broken many laws … with the approval of the Department of Justice,” he stressed that months of planning were involved for each action-packed day.
The tone of the talk was conversational, filled with anecdotes and laughter. At one point, Devine spoke about the shifting nature of covert relationships, describing his working relationship with members of the Soviet KGB as more cordial than current spies’ relationships with their enemies.
“You don’t have a drink with a terrorist — you have lots of drinks with Russians,” Devine said.
Devine also spoke about what he believes to be good and bad covert practices, adding that he believes in the just war theory — a doctrine that promotes morally justifiable military actions. He specified that he believes that one must only fight an enemy that is intrinsically evil, and that only when all non-lethal possibilities have been exhausted can one justifiably come up with a lethal plan that has a reasonable prospect of success and will minimize bloodshed. He also shared that he is not good at picking locks.
Prompted by a question about covert action in today’s world, Devine said that he does not believe in interference with other countries’ internal political affairs when the people of that country have not explicitly asked for intervention.
“I’m not for nation-building — people have to want it for themselves,” he explained. “I just don’t think that’s practical.”
Devine also stressed that the infamous 1973 coup in Chile, in which he was involved, was not actually organized by the CIA. Though the CIA stirred the waters, the Chilean military revolted of its own accord, he said.
In terms of his feelings about U.S. action in the Middle East, Devine said he would be in favor of bombing the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria even though he would not be in favor of putting boots on the ground.
Students interviewed at the talk were excited about listening to someone who had such an extensive and unique experience in international affairs.
Hope Allchin ’18 said that, despite wishing that he’d discussed more of his personal experiences, she was glad he spoke about Syria.
“He had a unique perspective that we should keep the dictators in power in the Middle East,” she said.
Justin Schuster ’15, a student who organized the event after working with Devine last summer, said he found it fascinating to “get a look under the cover of something that has only been depicted in Hollywood.”
Devine is currently president of the Arkin Group, a consulting firm that helps companies assess political situations and analyze international risks.