National Security Experts Flock to Fulton for 3-day Symposium

Sep 15, 2015

Westminster College kicked off its 10th annual Hancock Symposium Monday. This year's 3-day symposium featured many high-profile figures, including U.S. Senator Roy Blunt, R-Mo. and former CIA attorney John Rizzo.

Credit Senate Appropriations Committee / Flickr

This year’s conference, themed “Security vs. Liberty,” will bring noted figures in national security and foreign policy to discuss the delicate balance of safety and freedom in public policy.

Sen. Blunt spoke on the importance of cybersecurity Monday night during the opening keynote speech.

Sen. Blunt, who serves on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, cited red-light cameras, drones, WikiLeaks and airport body scanners as examples of domestic and international issues that test that balance.

“The number one responsibility of the federal government is to defend the country,” Blunt said. “Number two is the responsibility to make sure it’s a country that meets our standards.”

U.S. information systems are currently very vulnerable to cyber attacks, Blunt said. He also said that the primary groups that pursue American classified information are “hacktivists,” terror groups like the Islamic State and organized networks of cybercriminals, particularly the Russians the Chinese governments.

In addition to addressing cybersecurity challenges, Sen. Blunt critiqued what he saw as the country’s recent foreign policy blunders with Syria, Russia and China. He opposes the Iran Nuclear Deal, which he believes will encourage Iran’s neighboring countries to demand nuclear capabilities.

“Our friends frankly don’t trust us and our enemies aren’t afraid of us,” Blunt said. “In a dangerous world, that’s a very dangerous place to be.”

Sen. Blunt’s proposed solution to protect Americans’ liberties in the face of increased security is to create short-term policies like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Patriot Act that must be reevaluated frequently.

“That requires Congress to… evaluate what’s working and what’s not working, what went too far, what needs to be repealed, what needs to be repaired and what needs to be replaced,” Blunt said.

Rizzo addressed a packed audience Tuesday. He focused his lecture on his extensive history with the CIA and how he came to get permission for enhanced interrogation techniques during the Bush administration as well as his work with the secret prison system.

“I became a public symbol of the national debate over torture,” said Rizzo.

Rob Crouse, director of media and public relations, discussed the unique nature of the high-profile event.

“We take two days and suspend classes for those two days so that the entire Westminster community can come together to learn about some global topic,” said Crouse.

The auditorium was packed with guests including students and members of the academic community.

Crouse said that the key in attracting such a large audience is to provide an array of topics on all sorts of academic disciplines. This lecture series is the same, series that Winston Churchill gave his legendary “Iron Curtain” address.

Other speakers include infectious disease expert Dr. Erick Hewlett and investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill.

The symposium will wrap up Wednesday with a lecture from U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson. The high-status of this guest will shut down some streets near campus for security purposes.