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New course on defection to be taught by Alan Messer

Soviet 444x718This spring, a new course on “Defection Then and Now” (IWP 676) will be offered at IWP.  It will be taught by Alan Messer, a 32-year veteran of the CIA who served first as an analyst on Soviet defense industries and economics, then in the Directorate for Science and Technology for two years, and then as an operations officer in the Clandestine Service for 13 years, specializing in the KGB and GRU.  

“Alan Messer’s 32 years of service in the CIA has given him excellent credentials to teach a course on one of the most challenging subjects in intelligence,” said IWP President John Lenczowski.  “We are delighted to welcome him to the IWP faculty.”

This course will examine historical cases of defection and the strategic and tactical dimensions of defection.  Students will also explore the evolution of “success” in defector cases.

“For more than a century, defectors have played a critical role in our understanding of totalitarian societies and their intelligence services,” commented Prof. Robert Stephan, who teaches several courses on intelligence and counterintelligence at IWP. “Al Messer is one of the few true scholar practitioners who is uniquely qualified to greatly enhance our understanding of this vital aspect of intelligence operations.”

This course will be an elective for the M.A. in Statecraft and National Security Affairs, the M.A. in Strategic Intelligence Studies, the Certificate in Intelligence, and the Certificate in Counterintelligence.  Students can also take this course as part of the continuing education program.

Course description: Defection Then and Now

Defection is probably as old as Moses, but defectors have often done so not to seek, but to deliver.  The history of modern defections begins with that of Boris Bazhanov in 1928 and has continued up to the notorious case of Curve Ball.   Throughout this era, defectors have provided history-making claims, from the secret purposes of Stalin’s foreign policy in the 1930s, through the Soviet role in the Kennedy assassination, to the instigation of the Iraq war.  At the same time, defectors have been the principal source of leads to the spies of our adversaries.  The scope of their reporting ranges from foreign policy and military affairs to intelligence services, activities, and capabilities.

Some aspects of defections are perennial, such as the variety of motivations propelling the defector to act in the first place.  But some aspects have clearly evolved since Bazhanov, particularly in the effectiveness of host intelligence services, but also in the sophistication of defectors in approaching this life-changing decision.  Early history is important in bringing to the foreground that which we take for granted today.  It is also a useful yardstick by which we can compare deficiencies in current practices with the standards that an evolving knowledge and wisdom should have taught us.

Defections from the Soviet Union will dominate the discussions in this class because of the robust body of evidence and experience they provide, but also because it will facilitate the exploration of a deeply Byzantine cast of mind that expands our understanding of the enigmas and difficulties that plague the typical defection case. 

Defector cases are characterized by their “strategic” dimension in the nature of the intelligence they provide and by their “tactical” dimension in personal handling challenges they present to the host service handling the defector.  The extent to which a defection is “successful” has depended on the success of the defection act itself, the capabilities of the defector as a reporter of fact, the importance of those facts, the reliability of the reporter, and the capabilities of the host intelligence service to exploit, validate, and resettle the defector. 

This course will explore the evolution of “success” and its ingredients, but the most important ingredient is the quality of the human mind as it approaches either the defection decision or the exploitation effort.   For this reason, the class will emphasize a Socratic method of teaching wherein question and answer between teacher and student and between students will dominate over any lecture format.