By Katie H.
When asked if he has any advice and good habits for students, the former acting CIA Director Michael Morell said,“The ability to self assess,” speaking to a group of Catholic University students on the Tuesday, the 17th anniversary of 9/11. Morell then further advised students to ask themselves, each and every night, “How did you do today and how can you do better?” He has been doing this nightly ritual for years.
While the original intent of the event was to discuss the memory and provide insight to the greater Catholic University community, it provided much more knowledge than that which was advertised. The event, which took place in Pryz Great Room A, was well attended. Extra chairs had to be added at the back of the room, but by the beginning of the event, it was standing room only. The event was especially poignant due to its day of the week – September 11th, 2001 was on a Tuesday. This event, held by the University’s newly formed Institute for Human Ecology (IHE) was not the only event held on campus in remembrance of the sober day. College Republicans and College Democrats sponsored a bipartisan flag planting ceremony on the Pryzbyla Center’s lawn – a long line of red, white, and blue that made every passerby glance and remember the solemnity of the day. The flag planting started at eleven in the morning and ended at four in the afternoon, in order to accomodate all class schedules. The event in the evening began at six-thirty, and lasted with reception until about eight o’clock.
A variety a topics were discussed at the beginning of the evening’s talk. The stage was simple – two cushioned chairs, a podium, and the IHE backdrop. The entire focus was to be on Former Acting Director Morell’s words. The evening opened with introductions from Stephen Higgins, the Managing Director for the Institute for Human Ecology. He thanked and introduced Professor Nicholas Dujmovic, and explained the main purpose of IHE. The purpose being, according to the IHE website, “the systematic study of human flourishing”. After Mr. Higgins left the stage, Prof. Dujmovic introduced Frmr. Acting Director Morell.
A trained economist, grown in Ohio, Morell had served a variety of positions from an analyst in the topic of Asian affairs to the deliverer of the President’s Daily Brief to, for seven months between 2011 and 2013, the Acting Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. After this impressive introduction, the discussion began, with Prof. Dujmovic acting as moderator to continue the conversation. The knowledge of intelligence of the Agency before, during and after 9/11 amazed students.
“Mr. Morell’s experience in the CIA shed light on the darkest moment of the agency,” Junior Benjamin Hewitt, President of Catholic University’s Intelligence Club states, “His experience also elaborated the resilience of those in the intelligence profession after 9/11.”
A surprising detail Mr. Morell’s discussion allowed was this: the United States as a whole tends to declare 9/11 as an intelligence failure, which, to an extent, it was. 9/11 was a tactical warning failure, however, it was not a strategic failure. The CIA knew that something was going to happen, however, the details were not clear. Mr. Morell described the actual day of September 11th, 2001 as “day [that] was a mixture of doing my job with the surreal”. Mr. Morell also commented on how he remembers every single moment of that fated day with precision. He was in Florida, with the President, that day. He states that upon hearing the news, one of the other officials around him exasperated “Nothing will ever be the same” upon watching the South Tower fall. The aftermath of the attack lead to multiple conclusions, outlined by Mr. Morell; 9/11 took the CIA back to the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor to the the Central Intelligence Agency – which was collecting intelligence and covert action in war zones. Additionally, the fight against jihadi extremism was to be a multi-generational fight.
After this heady discussion, the floor was opened up to Q and A. Upon the finish of the Question and Answer section, there was a light refreshment bar, to be consumed as you waited in line to meet Mr. Morell.
Overall, Ben Hewitt said, “The event was amazing.” It was because of events like this, Hewitt explained, “Mr. Morell’s time at the CIA and as a public servant emphasizes the greatness of going to Catholic. We are able to invite real professionals who have first-person experiences with things most people can only read in books.”