In this interview Prof. Alan Messer discusses his course entitled “A Counterintelligence Challenge: The Enigmas and Benefits of Defectors” (IWP 676).
What do you cover in your course (briefly)?
The course covers the history of largely Soviet defectors from Boris Bazhanov in the 1920s to Oleg Gordievsky in the 1980s, with detours to Whittaker Chambers in the 1930s and the Iraqi defector codenamed “Curveball” in the early 2000s.
Each case is explored from the perspective of defector motivations and personality, veracity and asset validation, defector proficiency in planning and executing the defection, the evolution of host services professionalism in receiving and handling defectors, and the professionalism and cunning in Soviet reactions to these catastrophes.
Along the way, the intellectual performance of the authors of the course books is subjected to critical scrutiny.
What makes your course unique?
This is not a lecture course. Each session is a three-hour interrogation and debate session generally employing a Socratic method of teaching.
The objective is to get the student to read text very carefully and learn to reason through issues and questions that are implicit in the text; to identify contradictions and deficiencies in the narrative; to take initiatives in posing questions and researching context in order to gain a more well-rounded understanding of the subject and his situation, oftentimes far removed in both place and time; to develop a greater facility for judging people as well as the uncertainties in any judgment as a necessary tool for both asset validation and author accuracy and credibility.
Both the book’s authors and the defector are subjects of scrutiny. Over the term of the course, students are expected to grow in their analytical capacity. They also develop an ability to think rapidly and extemporaneously, deal with criticism intellectually and emotionally, and engage in civil debate and discussion.
Is one likely to find such a course at an institution other than IWP?
I have never heard of such an approach at any educational institution. Any leads to the contrary would be welcome.
What makes your course useful to students?
Is a fully functioning brain useful to students in both their future professional endeavors and in their personal lives?