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Monday, March 06, 2006

"If I tell you, I'll have to *%$# you...", and other insights from Korea trip

Just some random ramblings on my recent time on the road....

As you might gather from previous posts, I spent last week in Seoul, Korea. I was there primarily to teach a class at the Yongsan US Army post on Bureaucracy and Politics -- part of a relationship I started with the University of Oklahoma well over ten years ago. I also spent some time with former PhD students who now work in the Seoul area, and they arranged for some additional talks at Yonsei and Seoul National Universities.

The OU teaching is actually an interesting assignment because the students are always a pleasure to deal with -- only once or twice in my years of doing this have I run into problems, and although they are typically struggling to keep awake in class after a long day on duty, they tend to be easy to engage in conversation.

One thing was evident to me this trip, and that is the warnings that the military is facing human resource problems in the near future is probably true. As you might guess, I ask each student to introduce him/herself and talk about past, present and future plans. Typically the response is as you might imagine -- most tend to be long-termers planning on using the degree for promotion in the military with the hope that it will be useful outside whenever they retire.

But there was a decidedly different tone to this group -- much more focus on retirement in the next year or two -- a point made by several folks, from the youngest officers to the command rank professionals. The past few years of tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and other "hot" places is definitely taking its toll. They have had enough, and were ready for civilian life....

I also ran into an interesting dilemma while teaching this class. One of the cases I really focused on in this class was the NSA surveillance controversy -- it is almost the perfect example of the constitutional question of which branch really has priority over calling the shots for any US agency. I thought this was not only great for in-class discussion, but might also be the focus on an online discussion forum that is also part of the course requirements this time around.

Well, having made the assignment I got a visit from one of the students who reluctantly gave me a business card -- and while s/he could tell me no more it was obvious that I had put the student in an awkward position, especially given the kinds of quesitons I was raising on the discussion forum ("If you were a member of the NSA and became convinced your agency was doing something questionable, and if you had no internal recourse, would you blow the whistle through the media?). I made the necessary modificaitons of the assignment....

Listening later that day to the audiobook version of James Risen's State of War (he is the NY Times reporter who broke the NSA story), I found out that the NSA has a rather important facility somewhere in South Korea. According to Risen, General Michael Hayden, who headed the NSA for several years before being appointed Deputy Director of National Intlelligence (a title that is just crying out for some comic challenge) was head of the NSA's South Korean operation before being tapped to head the agency in the late 1990s....

So much for some random thoughts. This week it is back to teaching in the US, and preparing for the next trek, this time to Australia....

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