Faculty Interview Series: An Interview with Patrick Eddington, SSP Adjunct Assistant Professor

By: Cillian Muldoon, Reporter

Patrick G. Eddington is a policy analyst in homeland security and civil liberties at the Cato Institute. Eddington received a B.A. in International Affairs from Missouri State University in 1985 and his M.A. in National Security Studies from Georgetown University in 1992. He spent 11 years in the US Army Reserve and the National Guard in both enlisted and commissioned service. From 1988 to 1996, Eddington was a military imagery analyst at the CIA’s National Photographic Interpretation Center. He received numerous accolades for his analytical work, including letters of commendation from the Joint Special Operations Command, the Joint Warfare Analysis Center, and the CIA’s Office of Military Affairs. His analytical assignments included monitoring the breakup of the former Soviet Union and providing military assessments to policymakers on Iraqi and Iranian conventional forces. From 2004 to 2014, Eddington served as communications director and later as senior policy advisor to Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ). His legislative portfolio includes the full range of security-related issues, with an emphasis on intelligence policy reform in the areas of surveillance, detainee interrogation, and the use of drones, both in overseas and domestic contexts. Eddington’s opinion pieces have appeared in a number of publications, including The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Times, and Army Times, and he has appeared on the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, SKYNews, and CNN, among other outlets.

Professor Eddington discusses these myriad experiences with the GSSR in this edition of the Faculty Interview Series.

What attracted you to teaching at SSP?

I’m a 1992 graduate of the program. What I remember most was something GEN Arnold Punaro (USMC, Ret.) told me and others in his class: “In Washington, all policy is made on the fly.” As I would discover during my time in and out of government, he was absolutely right.

Which courses are you teaching this semester, and what have you taught in the past?

This is my rookie semester. I’ve lectured at Stonybrook, GU, and a few other places over the years. This Spring, I am teaching a section of SEST-710. 

What attributes make a good imagery analyst, and how can students interested in this field hone those skills?

When I started in 1988, we were still using 1540-series light tables that required the analyst to have true stereoscopic vision. Today, in the digital arena, that’s less true—but other skills remain critical, particularly the ability to recognize fine details and subtle patterns. The best analysts I knew had a true gift for it. My first division chief at the National Photographic Interpretation Center was among the analysts who found Soviet missiles in Cuba. He and the others were legends, and for good reason.

Could you briefly describe the differences in organizational culture working in the IC, on the Hill, and at a think tank? Which experience have you enjoyed the most?

Former DCI and SECDEF Robert Gates described the CIA as a “closed, clannish culture, hostile to outsiders.” No truer words have ever been spoken, and that culture has repeatedly got CIA personnel in hot water, particularly over the past 15 years. I felt President Obama was incredibly flippant when he said, “We tortured some folks.” The folks who did the torturing are still walking the streets. Some are still at the CIA. The lack of accountability is absolutely poisonous—for the institution and the country.

The House of Representatives and the Senate today have among their lowest approval ratings in modern history. It’s pretty easy to understand why, particularly if you’ve worked up there as I have. I have no problem with a Member having strongly-held views. What I do have a problem with is Members and political parties that put partisan gamesmanship ahead of actually governing. There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Pelosi and Ryan in that regard. They are not focused on governing. They are focused on the acquisition and maintenance of power for their particular political tribe, which is why America in 2016 very likely resembles Rome around 50 B.C. And in the end, the fault lies with the American public. When you set a low bar for who can get nominated, you forfeit the right to complain later when things go south.

Cato is a fascinating place. I’ve never had a greater boss or a greater freedom to pursue my policy interest than I do now. This is without question the happiest and most productive time of my life—which is why I never take a day for granted because I know how capricious and unforgiving life can be.

How have your research interests developed over your career, and what is one topic currently in the news that you find yourself wanting to read more and more about?

I began my career in Washington as an intelligence officer, focused first on the then-Soviet threat and later on various Third World hot spots. I still follow the business closely, but for much different reasons than when I came here.

For me, the issue of our time and the focus of my work at Cato is the threat posed to the Bill of Rights by an overgrown National Security State that now possesses in realty a power of surveillance (and thus potential control) that the late Senator Frank Church (D-ID) expressed a mortal fear of during the investigation of the IC that he led in 1975. My latest project at Cato is a timeline that tries to show the reality of that threat, and how it has grown over the past 100+ years. A book on the same topic and timeframe is currently in the research phase.

What do you emphasize in your 710 section, and what are your expectations of your students?

There are no ‘off-limits’ topics in my classroom. If you pick a topic that goes against the grain of ‘Washington conventional wisdom’ you’re going to get my attention, and in a good way.

What is off-limits is lazy thinking and anemic sourcing. ‘Googling’ something is not a substitute for actually researching a topic. As my students this semester have learned, I pay close attention to their bibliographies and sourcing. Quality research papers and sound arguments must have a solid foundation, and I demand that in my course…because that’s exactly what my SSP instructors demanded of me 25 years ago. This isn’t a Patrick Eddington thing—it’s a Georgetown standard and what makes this one of the greatest places of higher education on the planet.

If you could have a drink with anyone from history, who would it be and why?

Easiest question anyone has ever asked me: Patrick Henry.

In so many ways, he was the living embodiment of the American Revolution. He and his generation were the true ‘Greatest Generation’ of American history. Henry, Washington, Adams, Madison, Franklin, and all the rest of the generation of the Revolution came to so loathe the government they were born and raised under—because of its pervasive surveillance, its political and economic repression—that they chose to risk death in battle or at the end of a rope rather than continue to live under that kind of tyranny. That is the true spirit of America—the knowledge that there can be no security for the individual unless the liberty of the individual is sacrosanct.

Too many Americans have forgotten that truth. It is why I have dedicated whatever time I have left on earth to reminding my fellow citizens of the wisdom and the ideal of liberty that Henry and his generation—despite their imperfections—aimed for in demanding the inclusion of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution.

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