September 9, 2013

Peter Clement, who recently began a two-year term as a visiting professor, joins SIPA from the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence, where he spent the last eight years as deputy director for intelligence for analytic programs. Clement previously held a number of senior analytic and management positions at the CIA, including director of the Office of Russian and Eurasian Analysis and issue manager for Russia.

The Long Island native has a PhD in Russian history from Michigan State University. He has taught for over 10 years at the college level and published some 10 journal articles and book chapters about Soviet and Russian foreign policy and other subjects.  (See Clement’s complete biography here.)

In a recent interview, Clement spoke about the task of gathering intelligence, what it means for a CIA officer to teach, and how he came to SIPA.

What have you done at the CIA?

I started out as a Russia analyst in the Directorate of Intelligence. You do a lot of analytic work, be it long-term research or current intelligence writing. [In later years] I became a manager, then a senior manager, and then one of three deputies to the Director of Intelligence — essentially the number-three person in the directorate. As a deputy you oversee the work of the entire directorate on the full range of subjects, to include such issues as terrorist threats, Iran’s nuclear program, and developments in Syria, North Korea, and Russia.

The other three CIA directorates are clandestine operations, science and technology, and support. The core mission of the Directorate of Intelligence is to produce all-source intelligence to support policymakers. The exciting thing about being an analyst is that every morning you get information from all over the world: intercepted communications, satellite imagery, reports from clandestine assets overseas, and [unclassifed] materials from newspapers, television, and social media. Your job is to put all this disparate—and sometimes conflicting—information together and figure out what it all means.

The Directorate of Intelligence is essentially a think tank/research institute and a newspaper. We write six days a week for the president: the key publication is the PDB, the President’s Daily Brief. CIA analysts are the major contributors to the PDB; all PDB items are fully coordinated with other elements of the intelligence community. We also serve a warning function, looking over the horizon for new developments and emerging trends — issues like demographic changes, water resources or global energy trends.

You’re serving as a CIA officer in residence at SIPA. What does that mean?

The Agency’s Officers in Residence program goes back several decades. Over the years the CIA has had people teach at different schools around the country — including Georgetown, MIT, Harvard, and Princeton — in departments of international affairs and related subjects.

The goal of this outreach is to give people a more informed and hopefully more sophisticated understanding of what the CIA really does, as opposed to what you read in novels or see in the media.

It’s also a good opportunity for people [at the CIA] who want to teach and have the appropriate background — for people who can talk intelligently about what we do and also have an area of special expertise, like Russian and Soviet history in my case.

How did you end up at SIPA?

I’d been in my job for eight and a half years, and at some point I knew I wanted to do something different, something with a pace where I could teach and think about issues  from a different vantage point. I’m really an academic at heart — I’ve always wanted to teach, and I previously taught as an adjunct at [the universities of] Maryland and Virginia.

Coming to SIPA was largely my idea. I knew SIPA’s reputation as a top-notch program. I knew Professors [Robert] Jervis and [Richard] Betts. I broached the OIR idea with Jervis, who consults for the CIA, and he and Betts were both positive. And then, as I understand it, the appointment was reviewed and finalized by [Robert Lieberman, then acting dean].

I later found out, when I announced I would be coming up here, that there are a healthy number of SIPA graduates in our workforce; several of them have given me pointers on the best bookstores and restaurants around here.

What are your plans for the year ahead?

As a faculty member, I have two classes per semester. This semester I’m teaching Intelligence and Foreign Policy, which focuses on the process by which the intelligence community produces intelligence, and how that feeds into the foreign policy decision-making process. I’ve spent much of my career at the nexus of [intelligence and foreign policy]. Attending White House meetings, you can see firsthand how senior policymakers  use the product, and the tasking that comes out of those meetings.

I’m also co-teaching with Bob Jervis International Signaling and Communication, which builds on his work on how states perceive and misperceive one another and the role of signals in their efforts to communicate.

Next semester, I’ll teach a course on contemporary Russian security policy, and also supervise a Capstone workshop. Last year I was involved with a Capstone workshop on Mali, which focused on the potential for ethnic and sectarian tensions in that country. It was interesting because after we decided on the topic, northern Mali really became a hotbed for  radical Islamic activity. It was a great experience, and we’re thinking about some new ideas for this year.

How do you like SIPA and New York so far?

Well, I’ve always loved New York. And SIPA students are terrific — I’ve had the first class for both courses and I’m very impressed by the students already. We talked about some of the basic concepts of intelligence and the class got involved very quickly. They’re pretty smart and savvy, and I’m excited about spending a lot more time with them. I’m also looking forward to working with SIPA faculty; it’s always a great experience to meet the people whose work you have read over the years.

If anyone has questions about the intelligence business, my door is open. I’m just really excited to be here, it’s a great opportunity.