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Anwar Akhtar - "It's a Privilege to Work on Projects Like Dara"
Anwar Akhtar - "It's a Privilege to Work on Projects Like Dara"
Helena Santos and Tomás De La Rosa 

Anwar Akhtar is the chief-executive of The Samosa, a London-based arts and media charity. What first started as an online media platform in 2009 has since transformed into an organization which works with South Asian and Muslim communities across the UK to enable positive discussion through the arts.

Akhtar has shared his valuable insights at Salzburg Global Seminar multiple times on how arts can act as a social transformer and help bring communities together. At Learning from the Past: Sharing Experiences across Borders to Combat Extremism, he led a discussion after a screening of the acclaimed play Dara.

Dara made history as the first Pakistani play to be chosen and adapted by the National Theatre in London. Set in 1659, Dara tells the story of the succession war between Dara and Aurangzeb, the two Moghul princes who had two very different visions on how to interpret the Quran.

“One, it is just an incredibly powerful story, but two, it has a lot in it about the relationship between Muslim traditions, Sikh traditions, Hindu traditions. Dara was accused of apostasy by Aurangzeb for his relationships with Sikh gurus and Hindu pandits, and essentially there was a war, and the war was over religious identity in some ways. Many people point to it as that moment in Indian history that laid the seeds for the tensions that erupted vis-à-vis the partition of India in 1947 and creation of Pakistan,” Akhtar says.

Alongside his work as Samosa’s director, Akhtar is also a production consultant at the National Theatre and Ajoka Theatre, and it was the conjunction of these different responsibilities that brought Dara to one of London’s biggest stages. After seeing the play staged by Ajoka Theatre in Pakistan, he decided to bring a CD and pitch the narrative in the UK.

“The National Theatre was very interested in it because they saw parallels and similarities with religious and sectarian conflicts that had occurred in Europe in a similar time period. There’s some comparison with the conflict between Charles I and Cromwell. There’s some comparison vis-à-vis the conflict between Elizabeth and Philip in Spain.”

The creative team behind Dara includes Shahid Nadeem, writer at the Ajoka Theatre; Nadia Fall, director at the National Theatre; and Tanya Ronder, writer and adapter at the National Theatre.

Akhtar states having a play that is not about European history on a European stage is not that common and advocates for more projects like this since it brings depth to issues around Islamic identity and has a great educational potential especially with working-class young people from diverse communities.

“Just the message of having an all-Asian cast on the main stage at a national [theater] inspires young people that they don’t just have to be shopkeepers or cab drivers. They could reach those giddy heights as well.”

At Schloss Leopoldskron, the screening of Dara was part of the third day of the session, Learning from the Past: Sharing Experiences across Borders to Combat Extremism.

Akhtar praises the support he and The Samosa have had from Salzburg Global over the past few years. Having the opportunity to engage with stories from all around the world and shed some light on misconceptions is one of the things Akhtar cherishes the most about his job.

Akhtar says, “I also love working in the arts and culture, and it’s a privilege to work on projects like Dara, and the educational work that we do and the cultural work that we do, I think, brings a positivity to some very negative debates.”


Channel 4 - Dara: the tale of Two Islams hits the stage

The Telegraph - Peter Tatchell - "Every child in Britain should see the National's latest play: Dara dramatises the historic struggle against Islamist extremism - it can reach people that political debate cannot."

The Guardian - "The story of Dara, the newest production to take to the boards at the National Theatre, is one that begins thousands of miles away from the concrete jungle of London’s South Bank."

TimeOut - "Where do we find stories about Pakistan… that also affect us in Britain? That’s a question outgoing NT artistic director Nicholas Hytner asked, and this is the epic and often highly affecting response. A magnificently ambitious project…The best scene by far – and one it’s easy to imagine will be studied in schools – is when Dara is brought before the Sharia court in Delhi, and is forced to prove that he is a true Muslim."

The session, Learning from the Past: Sharing Experiences across Borders to Combat Extremism is part of the multi-year series Holocaust Education and Genocide Prevention (HEGP) Program, which is held partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and this year is funded by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Zukunftsfonds der Republik Österreich. Additional support comes from Mr. Ronald Abramson; the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science, Research, and Economy; the Robert Bosch Stiftung; the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation; the HDH Wills 1965 Charitable Trust; the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung; and the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

More information can be found on the session here, and you can follow along via the hashtag #SGShol on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

Amy Karle - "It's Really Important that we Choose and Focus on the Future we Want to Achieve"
Amy Karle - "It's Really Important that we Choose and Focus on the Future we Want to Achieve"
Carly Sikina 

From a very young age, Amy Karle was taught to envision a future full of hope, and as a transdisciplinary artist, she applies this optimism to her work.

Karle is an international award-winning bioartist and designer who examines how technology can be used to support and enhance humanity. Her artwork and designs combine digital, physical and biological systems to explore what it means to be human and how technology can be used to empower humanity. 

Karle attended the Salzburg Global Seminar session, The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future, which took place at Schloss Leopoldskron. Karle shared her work and insights during the session’s opening panel discussion.

Karle understands the importance of transdisciplinary exchange, as many of her projects cannot be created using art and design alone. While producing Regenerative Reliquary - a bioprinted scaffold in the shape of a human hand 3-D printed in a biodegradable PEGDA-hydrogel that disintegrates over time – cross-disciplinary collaboration was crucial. “I definitely had to collaborate with scientists and doctors and technologists to be able to learn how to build these scaffolds, to learn how stem cells will be triggered to turn into different kinds of bone cells… in a way that will biodegrade.”

Not only did she have to create partnerships across disciplines, but she also had to collaborate with other life forms. “It was really important that I collaborated with the actual stem cells and collaborated with this intelligence that creates life ...I see a lot of disciplines trying to harness nature and trying to harness the natural and control it. I’m more interested in witnessing it and letting it teach me how it grows, how it creates.”

Throughout her career, Karle has used art and design to explore what it means to be human. It’s a “very interesting” time in history, according to Karle, a point in time many still consider technology to be outside of ourselves. “However,” Karle says, “just in communicating with these devices and working with these devices, we have actually now reshaped out brains to think in different ways.” Although many people see these changes as negative, Karle recognizes the benefits of developing new technologies. By consciously thinking about how we integrate technology into our lives, Karle believes we can explore how it can help empower us.

Despite her optimism, Karle understands this issue is not always black-and-white. “Our human evolution – like our human induced revolution – can occur much quicker than the biological evolution and we can’t undo things like this so this is where it takes the most conscious awareness.”

Images of the future can often appear dark or grim. There appears to be an underlying assumption parts of society will be unable to keep up with advancements in technology and will pay the price. Karle strikes a different note. She says, “When we look at combining artificial intelligence and genetic editing, we can easily see the potential doomsday scenarios, but we can also see enlightened futures as well.”

Karle identifies recognition and emotions as ways to explore what it means to be human. The vision behind Regenerative Reliquary was to create something “that was uniquely and immediately recognizable as human.” She chose a human hand design because of all of human bones, hands are one of the most identifiable.

She continues, “I feel my contribution to humanity as an artist is that I have a platform to first share these common emotions - common feelings - of what it means to be human and a relationship to other people beyond our skin tone or economic status, what country we are from, what language we speak. There [are] truths about being human that we all share, that we all experience, death and suffering at some point and most of us also have an opportunity to like, even if it’s just for one small moment, to experience this joy and the awe and mystery of life as well.”

Karle’s inspiration derives from personal experiences. “The work that inspires me is by human needs – some of them are my own needs and internal motivations that I can’t always identify.” She states, “They are what made me who I am from the moment that I was born – the way I tap into the world, the ways that I experience the world and I’m trying to share my exploration and reflections with others.”

When asked about her time at Salzburg Global, Karle speaks passionately about the ideas she’s heard, including the notion that the artist is not a PR machine for science. She says, “This is really hard for me because in a lot of ways, I am a scientific and a medical illustrator, and that speaks to me. But being a PR machine reduces the importance of the artistic and scientific stories. But it’s a tension because we need the PR in order to keep producing the work, to get the funding for the work research, whether that be an art or science.”

Karle has maintained an optimistic view of the future throughout her life. “From my very beginnings, I was painted a future of hope. I was born with a life-threatening birth defect, and most of the other cases before me had passed away from this, but my parents instilled and carried this vision of a future full of hope for me.

“I can see all these different kinds of futures that are available to us, and it’s really important that we choose and focus on the future that we want to achieve. We cannot always achieve that, but if we are working towards that, we can get a lot closer than if we are blindly going into the future without thinking about it – without being conscious about it. It does require some work.”

Karle took part in Salzburg Global session, The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future, part of the multi-year series Culture, Arts and Society. The session is supported by the Edwards T. Cone Foundation. More information on the program can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter using #SGSculture.

Festivals as Future Labs - How Cross-Cultural Collaboration Can Lead to Social Change
Festivals as Future Labs - How Cross-Cultural Collaboration Can Lead to Social Change
Carly Sikina 

Festivals can provoke meaningful and productive conversations about the future(s). They are spaces where cross-sectoral exchange and collaboration can flourish and help shift the way we see the world and the future(s) of the planet.

If you want to drive a movement, inspire creativity and expand mindsets, a festival is a useful tool in this regard. While there may be some disagreement as to whether “festival” is the right word to describe such an event, what we can be sure of is an opportunity exists to utilize and explore cross-disciplinary collaboration.

During the Salzburg Global Seminar session, The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future, participants discussed the importance of cross-cultural collaboration when thinking about the future – or the possibility of multiple futures.

One participant who believes in the importance of festivals is Cynthia Selin, director of the Center for the Study of Futures at Arizona State University (ASU). During a panel discussion, Selin described ASU’s multi-year festival, Emerge.

Selin sees Emerge as a way to discuss and cultivate futures fit for everyone. “[Emerge is] designed to break down those walls between the university and the community.” She says the festival is unique because it creates a sense of “A collective experience that is unlike others that [people] have access to.”

Tom Higham, former executive director of FutureEverything and now creative director of York Mediale, builds on this point, citing the “unintended consequences” that can often occur. He adds, “They are experiments - they are experiments in time. They have different rules than normal life and amazing things can come from that – awful things come too – but it’s a powerful vehicle that can be used for amazing things.”

David Wright, founder of the f3 Futures Film Festival, shares a similar mindset to Higham. What sets him apart, however, is his apprehension of using the word “festival.”  He says, “Although [f3] started off as a futures film festival, we found in Australia, there’s something called festival fatigue, and people think ‘Oh god, another festival, no.’ So they kind of get put off by the idea.”

Moving forward, Wright is exploring alternative ways of defining f3. Options have included the future film transmedia event, super event, and mega event. Wright says, “We experimented with the word ‘fiesta,’ which is the Spanish word for ‘party’ because I see it as a bit like a party.”

Wright describes his vision for f3 as “a way to generate new kinds of means [and] synergies which brings in people from around the world who have futuristic ideas, not just high-techy, Silicon Valley kind of stuff, but new kinds of social experimentation ideas and so on.”

Despite his concerns regarding festivals, Wright understands the importance of bringing people together through shared interests and cross-sectoral collaboration. “From a general point of view, festivals are a way of bringing like-minded people together over a certain period of time and then bumping into each other and they generate new ideas…”

Selin emphasizes the value of cross-sectoral initiatives like Emerge. “[Transdisciplinary collaboration] matters because so many of our pressing social problems – whether you think about climate change, poverty, equality, even things like literacy [and] problems with our food system – there is no single discipline that is able to address it.

“We must re-gear our knowledge production, our educational systems… to foster this interdisciplinary collaboration. Emerge is really an opportunity to illustrate, to demonstrate what that looks like and [how to] foster an environment where that kind of work can thrive.”

Similarly, Higham and Wright recognize the importance of collaboration between the arts, sciences, and technology. Higham sees the arts and sciences as being able to collaborate in interesting ways that benefit both disciplines. Interdisciplinary exchange between an artist and a scientist can “create amazing things that neither could create on their own.”

Wright identifies the lack of common language surrounding futures as one of the key issues that can be remedied through cross-cultural collaboration. Wright believes there is “no shortage of compelling images” of the future, but they are largely scattered and therefore, must be brought together so that they have “shape, pattern, coherence, upon which people [feel] empowered to act in the real world.”

He continues by mentioning the power of cross-sectoral initiatives. He sees collaborative efforts, especially with the arts, as a way “to inspire futures-oriented behaviors.”

Selin discusses the amount of “common-ground” among the participants, despite their diverse backgrounds. “What’s beautiful about being here [at Salzburg Global Seminar] is that I think there’s similar points of inspiration to try to work in whichever way you are best equipped to - to create positive social change, more equity, more justice, more sustainability, [a] sort of better quality of life and well-being…”

The Salzburg Global program The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future is part of the multi-year series, Culture, Arts and Society. The session is supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. More information on the program can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter using #SGSculture.

YCI Transforms Historic Phone Booth into Storytelling Kiosk
YCI Transforms Historic Phone Booth into Storytelling Kiosk
Oscar Tollast 

A phone booth repurposed by a YCI has given residents in Lanesboro, Minnesota, the chance to have their story heard.

Adam Wiltgen, who attended the third session of the Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators, restored the beloved landmark and donated it to the Lanesboro Museum in December 2016.

The phone booth, which was decommissioned by Acentek, Inc., now acts as an interactive storytelling and story collecting exhibit.

Visitors can listen to local stories installed in the phone booth and contribute their own by leaving a voicemail message on a dedicated telephone number.

Wiltgen received funding for the hardware, equipment and interpretive signage for the project through a grant from Salzburg Global made possible by the Kresge Foundation. He received a follow-on grant after attending the Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators, one which was given for a new project that had a cross-sector approach and gave back to the community.

Adam Wiltgen, program director at Lanesboro Arts, said, “I immediately thought of the Lanesboro Phone Booth when this opportunity arose. It is such a charming historical asset and repurposing it as a storytelling exhibit is a great way to amplify the amazing work the museum has been doing preserving our history and collecting stories from all walks of life.”

Nine stories were collected for an open house and story celebration which took place in October last year. Stories included Glen Nyenhuis’s experience hunting and riding the caboose in Lanesboro, Bonita Underbakke’s memories fishing as a child at Watson Creek, Ann Madland’s reflections on living and working as an artist in Lanesboro, LaVonne Draper’s recollection of a trick played while tending bar, an e-mail message David Hennessey wrote in the aftermath of the 2002 Lanesboro fire, Blake Coleman’s memory of visiting Lanesboro for the first time, Betty Michaud’s tale of being surprised while swimming alone, Yvonne Nyenhuis’s anecdotes about the White Front Café, and Duane & Melissa Benson’s adventure swimming with horses.  

These stories were collected during storytelling projects organized by Lanesboro Museum. Story circles were conducted in partnership with the Minnesota Humanities Center for the Smithsonian Water/Ways exhibition in 2016. Story circles were also held in 2017 for the Be Here: Main Street initiative, a pilot project developed between the MuseWeb Foundation and the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum on Main Street program.

Since this event, the phone booth has continued to receive a positive reaction. Wiltgen said, “The Museum is changing out the stories regularly and adding new ones. Folks are using the voicemail box to leave messages and photos of the phone booth continue to pop up on social media. I'm looking forward to seeing how visitors interact with the phone booth this year during the high season. I love the cross-cultural and inter-generational appeal of the phone booth as well.”

For more information about the Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators, please click here.

Baroness Usha Prashar Warns Liberal Democracy is in “a Desperate State”
Baroness Usha Prashar with Stephen Salyer and Clare Shine (Credit: Salzburg Global Seminar/Rebecca Rayne)
Baroness Usha Prashar Warns Liberal Democracy is in “a Desperate State”
Sarah Sexton 

“It is not an exaggeration to say that liberal democracy is in a desperate state,” said Baroness Usha Prashar, speaking at Salzburg Global Seminar’s fourth Palliser Lecture.

The audience, made up of Salzburg Global Fellows, board members, and supporters, gathered in London on March 16 would likely have agreed with the crossbench member of the House of Lords.

Baroness Prashar, one of the UK’s most experienced policy advisors, pointed to the election of US President Donald Trump and Central Europe’s populist revolt against the European Union as evidence of a shift toward “illiberal democracies.” 

In her lecture, titled “Democracy and Civil Society – A Shrinking Space?”, Prashar said: “Political regimes may be based on electoral politics, but the rule of law, minority rights, freedom of the press, and other liberal protections are in danger.” 

Prashar warned against dismissing such events as temporary outpourings of populism. “We must not hunker down and think this is an aberration which will pass... Freedoms once lost are difficult to regain. We must understand causes and develop strategies to respond to them.”

Prashar underscored the importance of democracy not only to ensure free elections, but also to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority and to value dissent, dialogue, and participation. 

Such democracy, Prashar said, depends on lively civil society. Civil society organizations must have the space and the ability to speak out, organize, and act together to fulfill their roles, be it as promoters of democracy, a watchdog holding authorities to account, a humanitarian actor, a partner in implementing government policy, or a catalyst for development. 

Prashar reflected on the program series she launched with Salzburg Global Seminar in the early 1990s around civil society and democracy. As oppressive regimes collapsed and Cold War-era bipolarity faded, the role of non-governmental organizations and civil society was seen as crucial in building new emerging democracies. 

“It was at that time that Civicus: World Alliance for Citizen Participation was founded,” Prashar said. “Its first Secretary General, Miklos Marschall, was an active participant in this program, and I am pleased that the current Secretary General, Danny Sriskandarajah, is here tonight.” 

Marschall attended one of Salzburg Global’s first sessions on the role of NGOs as a young lecturer from Hungary. He became an early advocate of the third sector and credits Salzburg Global as being “directly responsible for the introduction and establishment of NGOs in Central and East Europe.”

View full set on Flickr

As the state-dominated regimes of communist Eastern Europe receded, civil society organizations emerged as a powerful and influential force on the world stage, according to Prashar, influencing public opinion and effectively harnessing the communication revolution to expand their reach. In the 2000s, for example, the world witnessed a surge in the mobilizing power of civil society and the impact of digital campaigning as the uprisings unfolded across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011. 

“Now the gains of the 1990s and 2000s appear to be under threat or are being reversed,” lamented Prashar. “Disillusionment with politics is rife, and many democracies are sliding toward autocracy.” 

Institutions of democratic systems have come to be seen as dysfunctional, Prashar said, pointing to political gridlock, ideological polarization, and gerrymandering in the United States as an example. 

Prashar suggested the consequences of capitalism and financial downturns have led to a crisis of inequality – manifesting in decreasing social mobility and diverging economic fortunes – which has compounded public disillusionment and spurred support for anti-establishment parties. 

“To me, this is a wake-up call,” Prashar said. “Concern and outrage is not enough. We must understand the causes and develop strategies to respond to them.” 

Prashar offered some examples of positive developments in civil society, including increasing public scrutiny toward technology platforms that spread extremist or false content with no regard for public interest. 

She referred to a trust barometer produced by Edelman that recorded a recent plunge in trust for social media and an increase in public support for more traditional media. 

“Citizens are also organizing and mobilizing in new and creative ways to defend civic freedoms, fight for social justice and equality, and to push back populism,” Prashar said, noting that civil society had advocated successfully for progressive new laws on access to information, protection of human rights, and women’s and LGBT rights. 

Prashar highlighted the viral #MeToo Movement as an example of a campaign that harnessed the power of social media to give voice to the voiceless, shape awareness around a global issue, and spur a broader dialogue around power and wealth imbalances. 

Social media has the power to change opinion, policy, and even legislation, but this power must be used responsibly.  

Given the gravity of present threats to civil society and democracy, Prashar called for courage and leadership rooted in the civic values of human equality, social justice, and pluralism. She also challenged civil society organizations to be agents of change by building alliances with businesses, academia, media, and other partners on issues such as rule of law, freedom of expression, and inequality. 

“The answers will come from collaboration between sectors – not just nationally but internationally – with one thing in common: concern for humanity and public interest,” Prashar concluded.

This was the fourth lecture to be held in memory of the Rt Hon Sir Michael Palliser GCMG, who died in 2012. Sir Michael had a long and distinguished career in the British Diplomatic Service, served as Vice Chair of the Board of Salzburg Global Seminar, and was a founding trustee of the London-based 21st Century Trust, which now works exclusively with Salzburg Global. 

Prashar said Salzburg Global Seminar has provided a base for such creative thinking, intercultural exchange, and collaboration between sectors and countries for 70 years.

“It is institutions such as Salzburg Global Seminar, the dedication of individuals like Sir Michael, and the indomitable human spirit which make this a hopeful world.” 

The fourth Palliser Lecture entitled “Democracy and Civil Society – A Shrinking Space?” was delivered by the Rt Hon the Baroness Usha Prashar on March 16, 2018 at the Grange St. Paul's Hotel in London, UK. 

Interlinking Challenges, Interdisciplinary Solutions
Interlinking Challenges, Interdisciplinary Solutions
Salzburg Global Seminar 

The 17 global goals set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are nothing short of ambitious. Building on from the Millennium Development Goals, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to “transform our world,” calling for action in both developed and developing countries. While the broad goals each have specific targets, no one goal can be achieved in isolation. Efforts to achieve one goal will help to advance another—and failures to address some will lead to negative impacts on others. 

Quality education (SDG 4) greatly improves health and wellbeing (SDG 3), which in turn can increase prosperity, but increased consumption that often comes with that can hinder local and global efforts to tackle climate change (SDG 13). Similarly, reducing conflict (SDG 16) may have benefits for employment and economic growth, but these cannot be sustained unless inequalities in education and access to health care are also addressed. Without holistic action for equality and social justice, peace may be short-lived or conflict may continue by other means. Achieving the targets set out in any of the SDGs thus calls for an interdisciplinary and cross-sector approach. 

Recognizing the significant challenge that comes in adopting such an approach, Salzburg Global Seminar is convening the session, Climate Change, Conflict, Health, and Education: Targeting Interdisciplinary Research to Meet the SDGs, at Schloss Leopoldskron, Salzburg, Austria, starting this Sunday, March 18.

The intensive three-day session will bring together 65 researchers, policymakers and development experts to explore how research can be more effectively translated into policy and practice in order to identify the interlinkages—and tensions—between the SDGs, and how top research funders can help lead the way.

One such leading research funder is session partner, the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), which is a £1.5bn fund established by the British government to help UK researchers work in partnership with researchers in developing countries to make significant progress in meeting the SDGs. Representing the GCRF at the session is UK Research and Innovation, a newly created body that brings together the seven UK research councils, Innovate UK and Research England.

Professor Andrew Thompson, Chief Executive, Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and UK Research and Innovation Champion for the Global Challenges Research Fund, said: “We're delighted to partner with Salzburg Global Seminar to explore the ways excellent research of the kind being undertaken through the Global Challenges Research Fund can help to tackle the most stubborn development challenges across and between the Sustainable Development Goals.” 

The session will enable discussion and exploration that span research, policy and practice. This will be achieved through a series of panel discussions and hands-on exercises that will examine the opportunities, challenges, and trade-offs involved in developing interdisciplinary approaches to the implementation of the SDGs related to climate change, conflict, health, and education. The session will also look to identify current research gaps and look at how to communicate the complexity of interdisciplinary research in order to shape evidence-based policy and practice. 

Through its programs, Salzburg Global Seminar seeks to bridge divides, expand collaborations and transform systems. In order to take the work of this session beyond Schloss Leopoldskron and advocate for change in their own sectors, participants will co-create a Salzburg Statement. The Statement will offer key recommendations for various stakeholders and serve as a call to action to help participants personally as well as their institutions and communities.

“Finding solutions to long-standing, seemingly intractable problems and the specific challenges that the SDGs look to mitigate against requires new ways of thinking and new approaches,” says Salzburg Global Program Director Dominic Regester. 

“We are delighted that so many experts across different sectors and geographies have given willingly of their time to come to Salzburg. We very much hope that the Statement that will be collectively authored during and after the session will help advance understanding of and opportunities for interdisciplinary research.”

The session, Climate Change, Conflict, Health, and Education: Targeting Interdisciplinary Research to Meet the SDGs, is being held in partnership with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). More information is available online: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/605 To join in the discussions online, follow the hashtag #SGSsdgs on Twitter

Former CIA and FBI Director Calls for Renewed Trust in Beleaguered Intelligence Agencies
Former CIA and FBI Director Calls for Renewed Trust in Beleaguered Intelligence Agencies
Sarah Sexton 

“Help restore trust.” 

According to the former CIA and FBI director, William H. Webster, this was the “most important thing” the audience of law students could do, “with the kind of training, education, and exposure you’re getting… to make a serious contribution to [your] country.”

Webster, the first and only person to have served as director of both the CIA and the FBI, posed this challenge during the sixth annual Salzburg Cutler Fellows Program, which gathered 54 law students from the US’ top law schools last month in Washington, DC to explore how they could apply their legal training to careers in public service. 

His challenge to this cadre of future top lawyers and public servants comes at a time of growing mistrust in America – mistrust of the mainstream media, mistrust of government, and mistrust of the intelligence services. The latter has surprisingly been led primarily by the country’s own president, Donald J. Trump.

Now 94 years old but still chair of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, Webster reflected on his long career in public service – from his military service during World War Two, to his appointments as a Federal District Court and then US Appeals Court judge, to his work with the FBI and later CIA – commenting on the rising tension between the White House and the US intelligence community. 

In the wake of attacks on the FBI for missing a tipster’s warning on the suspect who carried out the February 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which saw the deaths of 14 students and three teachers, Webster came to the FBI’s defense, stating, “This is one of the really great organizations of our country, and it attracts some of the ablest, most dedicated Americans that you could want to know or work with.” 

“Now, they’ll make mistakes; they’re not infallible,” Webster continued, acknowledging the missed Parkland tip as one such error that exposed a need for improvement. “But we cannot afford to undermine the credibility and trustworthiness of the FBI as long as they continue to earn that trust.” 

Webster recalled the day in February 1978 when he was sworn in as FBI Director, inheriting an agency tarnished by a variety of Watergate-era abuses, including illegal break-ins called “black-bag jobs.” Standing before President Jimmy Carter and US Attorney General Griffin Bell at his swearing-in ceremony, Webster knew he needed to address the need for change. 

As he closed his remarks at the ceremony, Webster said, “Together, we’re going to do the work that the American people expect of us in the way that the constitution demands of us.” 

To Webster’s surprise, his words would later be engraved on a bronze medallion that now adorns the entrance to a conference room at FBI headquarters.  This, Webster said, reflects the bureau’s ongoing commitment to fulfilling its responsibilities with integrity. 

As a former federal judge, Webster came to the FBI with built-in credibility, and he preferred that his agents refer to him as “judge” rather than “director,” in part to convey his independence and probity. Webster also brought in assistants with law degrees to help evaluate proposals and to ensure that bureau initiatives conformed to statutes and guidelines. 

Webster carried this practice over to the CIA after his appointment as director of central intelligence. One such assistant was John Bellinger III, then a recent graduate of Harvard Law School, who joined Webster as his special assistant in 1988, supporting the judge as he led the US intelligence community through the end of the Cold War, the invasion of Panama, the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and the Persian Gulf War. 

Bellinger went on to serve as a legal advisor to both the US Department of State and the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration. Speaking at the same event, Bellinger also shared his experiences with the students.  

“I remember vividly as a 28-year-old going with [Webster] to Europe after the end of the Cold War,” Bellinger recalled. “Sitting in the back rooms with the intelligence chiefs in Germany and in Britain to talk through what the future of Europe would be after that period in time – it was for me, as a young special assistant, an extraordinary period. I learned a lot from you.” 

Bellinger urged the students hailing from law schools at several of America’s top universities – Columbia University, Duke University, Georgetown University, Harvard University, New York University, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia, Stanford University, and Yale University – to consider working as special assistants to political appointees throughout the government. 

“I had two special assistants when I was legal adviser,” Bellinger said, “and this is an extraordinary way as a young person to watch a successful leader do their job and to help that person.” 

Bellinger and Webster now both serve on the advisory board of the Lloyd N. Cutler Center for the Rule of Law, established by Salzburg Global Seminar in memory of the Washington “superlawyer” who served as White House Counsel to Presidents Carter and Clinton. Lloyd Cutler also served as chair of Salzburg Global’s Board of Directors for a decade and advocated passionately for mentoring young leaders – both from the US and across the globe – who displayed a commitment to shaping a better world through the rule of law.

Since its founding in 2012, the Salzburg Cutler Fellows Program has carried forward Cutler’s leadership in both public and private practice of law and continues to empower rising legal professionals from around the world. This year’s Salzburg Cutler Fellows represented 23 countries, including Argentina, Indonesia, Israel, Jamaica, Pakistan and the United States. 

“It’s been my privilege to be part of the Salzburg Cutler Fellows Program,” said Bellinger, who also attended the 2016 event and later delivered the annual Cutler Lecture. “It’s an extraordinary way to both recognize Lloyd Cutler, who was my senior partner when I was a young associate at Wilmer Cutler, and to help shape the careers of a rising generation of international lawyers committed to public service.” 

Recognizing that, as aspiring public servants, this new generation of international lawyers might someday work in agencies charged with sensitive responsibilities, often operating under secret or classified conditions, Webster closed by further underscoring the importance of gaining and maintaining trust. 

“[These agencies] have to rely on your integrity – or what they perceive as your integrity – and you have to be worthy of that trust.”  

The Salzburg Cutler Fellows Program is held under the auspices of the Lloyd N. Cutler Center for the Rule of Law. The annual program collaborates with 11 of the leading US law schools. This year's session was sponsored by NYU Washington and Arnold & Porter. 

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