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The Politic Blog

Former CIA Director Devine Talks Hollywood, Cold War, and More

Photo credit: Samantha Gardner

According to Former CIA Director Jack Devine, he had proven to us that being in the CIA is not like how it’s portrayed in Hollywood even before beginning to speak. Self-deprecating jokes about how he is not Leonardo DiCaprio aside, distinguishing the CIA in the media from the CIA in reality was a key theme of The Politic Presents Master’s Tea with Devine. He spoke eloquently and candidly to a packed crowd in LC 101. “No bad questions,” he said. “Doesn’t mean I’ll answer them though. I also always tell the truth.”

Devine recently published a memoir entitled Good Hunting and now works in the private sector as President of the Arkin Group. Much of the talk focused on stories he told in the book, about which Master Bradley commented, “You have to get the book.” Master Bradley started off by asking about what the CIA is like in reality. Devine answered that there are a lot of exciting moments, like breaking into official buildings and breaking many laws (with the approval of the Department of Justice), but that it’s not all like that. “The truth is, often during the day, you sit at your desk reading and writing and planning,” he confessed. “And you’re going out to cocktail parties. Trust me, the first one sounds great, but by the fiftieth, you’ve just about had it.”

He then moved on to talking about his role in the Cold War, discussing getting weapons from China (“The Chinese gave me the best prices,” he quipped) and discussed the importance of equipment like the Stinger Missile, which he said defined the Cold War. Devine also joked about working with the Russians: “[They] get you one drink, and then another, and before you know it—well, don’t sign anything.”

Once the forum opened up to questions, a student asked about the coup led to the ouster of President Salvador Allende of Chile. Devine insisted that Allende was not overthrown and that the CIA did not plot with the military; rather, the military overthrew him on its own. He argued that the CIA was about 20% responsible, whereas most people see the CIA as 80% responsible. Still, he noted that Nixon wanted to “protect the democratic interest” because the Cold War was so present. “It’s hard to get back into the body of the time, how real the Cold War felt,” he reflected.

The biggest question of his talk, in my mind at least, remains the discrepancy between his declaration that, “I’m not for nation building” and his actions as Director of Operations of the CIA in a time where the U.S. focused on nation building and was criticized for what he himself called “force-feeding democracy.” But perhaps that’s a question of other influences on CIA policy, a distinction he did not address in the talk.

Toward the end of the talk, he addressed the differences between working in the private and public sector of covert operations (“I no longer can break the law,” he sighed) and cyberwarfare, with a hint of feminism or sexism, depending on your point of view. (“The spying really hasn’t changed since Adam and Eve,” he said. Women make the best spies!”).

In the spirit of his book’s title (but mostly in the spirit of the CIA’s equivalent of “break a leg”), Devine closed by wishing us, “Good hunting.”