Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited a workshop on covert action run by the British Academy-funded Out of the Shadows project during her visit to Swansea University on 14 October.
After receiving an Honorary Doctorate from the University, Mrs Clinton visited a seminar with local primary and secondary schools by the project's leader Dr Luca Trenta. The session – based on Schlesinger’s and Greenstein’s work on presidential qualities - asked students to assess leadership and discuss the qualities that leaders need in everyday life and in case of international crisis.
Dr Trenta described the opportunity to meet Hillary Clinton as “a particular privilege.”
“As Secretary Clinton arrived, we were discussing the qualities leaders need when faced with international crisis,” he said. “The students’ views were particularly interesting. They gave priority to honesty. They identified ‘having a vision’ as a key priority for a leader in everyday life but, in case of crisis, they preferred a more pragmatic approach. Diplomacy and patient negotiation also played a key role."
“I exchanged a few words with Secretary Clinton and she seemed impressed both by the nature of the project and by the quality and engagement of the students”, said Dr Trenta.
Out of the Shadows is funded by a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award and led by Dr Luca Trenta at the University of Swansea. It aims to improve the understanding, teaching and research of covert action – the umbrella term for a broad range of actions used by governments to influence activities abroad, outside official diplomatic channels. This can include espionage and propaganda, as well as paramilitary operations.
British Academy Rising Star Engagement Awards enhance the skills and career development of early career academics through the organisation of events, training, and mentoring activities for a wide range of other early career researchers.
Out of the Shadows, so named because it aims to bring controversial topics into the light of public debate, has set up a network for researchers working on covert action.
“Academics from this network have then engaged with teachers and students from secondary schools in the study of the topic”, explained Dr Trenta.
The expertise of this network has informed the Out of the Shadows conference, plus workshops with schools in Swansea and Pontefract on intelligence and the concerns regarding Russian interference in the recent US election.
The project aims to address the gaps in the school curriculum and engage teachers with covert action, a topic which forms an important part of set periods at GCSE and A-level, but is often missed in the classroom.
“Students at secondary school are required to study topics like the Cold War, the powers of Presidents and Prime Ministers, and global politics. School curricula, however, completely ignore issues related to intelligence, espionage, and covert action that play a prominent role in those topics. Can anyone really study the Cold War without ever mentioning the CIA or MI6?” said Dr Trenta.
Keen to dispel ‘fake news’ and ‘conspiracy theories’ around covert action, Dr Trenta has also set up a range of activities to bring the topic to a wider audience, including a Twitter account and a podcast series, which has interviewed authors including Henry Hemming, author of: Maxwell Knight, MI5’s greatest spymaster.
So, what did the former Secretary of State make of a project which engages students and academics alike on issues which would have been familiar during her time in the White House and during her Presidential campaign?
“As Hillary Clinton left, she said: ‘This is the type of issue young students should engage with," Dr Trenta reported, “which I take as strong evidence of support for Out of the Shadows.”
The Out of the Shadows project will be part of the Swansea University Hub for the Being Human Festival of the Humanities, which runs from 17-25 November.