SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - "History generally is important to understand so that we can know how we got here - how we got to this situation - that we find ourselves in today. It is at best an imperfect guide or roadmap to the future but it is all we have," said Nicholas Dujmovic, a member of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's history staff since 2005, who lectured to a packed Spotts World Culture Building Auditorium audience Tuesday.
"Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from history is that despite all of our plans, all of our calculations, things turn out differently that we expect, or want. Which is not necessarily bad, it is simply realistic. History teaches us that we should expect very often to be surprised," he said.
Dujmovic was on campus to discuss the workings of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency from a historical perspective.
His address included examination of mistakes the CIA has made, or projects that went wrong. He said such reviews, were designed to help avoid future mistakes.
As a specific example, when asked by SRU Political Science Professor Emeritus Walter Powell about the botched 1961 CIA-backed Bay of Pigs Invasion designed to overthrow then-Cuban leader Osvaldo Dorticos Torrado, Dujmovic, said the biggest lesson learned was "Don't do that again."
The invasion by counter-revolutionary militia trained by the CIA as a paramilitary operation was defeated by then-Prime Minister Fidel Castro and proved to be an embarrassment to then-President John Kennedy.
Dujmovic's campus address specifically covered the capture of CIA officers John Downey and Richard Fecteau, whose spy plane was shot down over Communist China in 1952.
Following years of denial concerning their CIA or spying connections, negotiations opened by then-President Richard Nixon resulted in their release, but only after being held in solitary confinement for 20 years. Fecteau was released in 1971 after nearly completing his Chinese-imposed 20-year sentence. Fecteau, who was originally given a life sentence, was released in 1973.
Dujmovic said the two men came back to a vastly different United States and are still alive.
The CIA historian has followed the case and written extensively about it as part of his work. His online report includes the following: "This story is important as a part of U.S. intelligence history because it demonstrates the risks of operations (and the consequences of operational error), the qualities of character necessary to endure hardship and the potential damage to reputations through the persistence of false stories about past events. Above all, the saga of John Downey and Richard Fecteau is about remarkable faithfulness, shown not only by the men who were deprived of their freedom, but also by an agency that never gave up hope. While it was through operational misjudgments that these two spent much of their adulthood in Chinese prisons, the agency, at least in part, redeemed itself through its later care for the men from whom years had been stolen."
In his lecture, he said, "The CIA personnel sought to do everything possible to mitigate the bad hand dealt to the men. In my study of CIA history, and I have been doing this now for eight years, I have found that almost all the time, CIA people were trying to do the best they could, in the circumstances they faced, subject to the limitations of knowledge at the time, and how it would turn out, and operating generally with too few resources and often under great pressure to do something."
He said the two men were regularly promoted and their families cared for during their incarceration.
Dujmovic outlined changes in U.S. policy during their incarnations, from refusing to negotiate with the Chinese Communists to opening of relations by envoy Henry Kissinger on behalf of then-President Nixon. Steps regarding normalization of relations between the U.S. and China allowed for the eventual release of the captured CIA officers.
Dujmovic joined the CIA in 1990 as an analyst on the USSR and East Europe. He later served as a speechwriter for the director of Central Intelligence, editor of the President's Daily Briefing and a manager of analysts.
He traced the early history of the agency, pointing to its work in creating Radio Free Europe to supply information to the peoples of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. He said every president since Truman has turned to the CIA to help implement international policies.
Dujmovic said the CIA employs "The Three P's" - propaganda, political action and paramilitary operations. He said the internal joke was always that the Three P's program was created so the line: "Let's give P's a Chance" could be employed.
He outlined each of the Ps, including their benefits and problems, and discussed the morality of some operations, including covert actions. He said such issues are high in CIA discussions.
"The overall definition of covert action is the implementation of presidential foreign policy and initiatives to influence or change foreign political, economic or military conditions in a way conducive to the interests of the United States, but also in a way in which the hand of the United States, or involvement of the United States is either hidden or hidden enough so it can denied."
SRU's history and political science departments sponsored the visit. Thomas Pearcy, SRU history professor and former Dujmovic colleague, coordinated the visit.
Most of Dujmovic's work is classified, but his unclassified work on agency operations and culture has appeared in intelligence anthologies as well as in the journals "Studies in Intelligence" and "Intelligence and National Security." He repeatedly told his SRU audience that his lecture represented his own opinions and were not officially cleared by the CIA.
In 2004, Yale University published, "The Literary Spy," his collection of quotations on intelligence and espionage.
He is currently working on a project dealing with U.S. intelligence and the 1982 Falklands War.
Dujmovic graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 1980 and spent a decade as a commissioned officer, serving on various ships and teaching national security policy and history at the academy.
He received his doctorate from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in 1996.
A sample of his work is available at: https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol50no4/two-cia-prisoners-in-china-1952201373.html#dujmovic.
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.