Spy Museum director to frame week of espionage, intelligence

Catherine Pomiecko | Staff Writer

When Peter Earnest first accepted a position with the United States Central Intelligence Agency, he, like the majority of the population at that time, knew very little about what the organization even was.

Now, after 35 years of service with the CIA, Earnest has made it his mission as the founding executive director of the International Spy Museum to educate the public about the role of intelligence and the ways it is gathered.

Setting the stage for a week of “American Intelligence: Technology, Espionage and Alliances,” Earnest will discuss the history of espionage and its role in the 21st century at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater.

Earnest served 25 years as a case officer in the CIA’s Clandestine Service, where he spent more than 10 years in Europe and the Middle East. In the height of the Cold War, he ran intelligence collection and covert action operations against Soviet Bloc representatives and Communist front organizations. He also was chief of the task force in charge of the highest-ranking Soviet defector to the U.S.

In his last position with the CIA, Earnest served as the principal spokesman and director of media relations, creating a public profile unusual for a person with his experience. That, Earnest said, made his involvement with the International Spy Museum a natural fit.

“The International Spy Museum, which is unique in the world, plays a real role in educating the public on intelligence and espionage,” he said. “And if the role of a museum is to enlighten people, to educate people, to broaden their view, then certainly the opportunity to partner with Chautauqua and reach a large number of people is a terrific opportunity.”

Earnest’s lecture will create a framework for the weeklong partnership between the International Spy Museum and Chautauqua Institution. In addition to the morning lecture series, many Special Studies courses, afternoon lectures and children’s activities planned for the week will feature different facets of intelligence and espionage.

For example, Jonna and Tony Mendez, both former CIA chiefs of disguise, will host a Special Studies course on the art of misdirection and deception on Wednesday. Earnest also will be hosting a session called “The Recruiter: The Art of Being a Spy” as part of a five-day series.

“The whole idea of doing this is to promote understanding, and I can’t think of a better way to do it,” Earnest said.

Sherra Babcock, director of Chautauqua’s Department of Education, said the partnership better allows both organizations to further their own goals and appeal to all audiences.

“It’s going to be a wonderful, interesting, intergenerational week,” Babcock said.

The week’s theme also aligns closely with the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 and is meant to explore the questions that still remain about U.S. enemies, Babcock said.

“We didn’t want to do a straightforward program (in observance of Sept. 11) so we asked ourselves, ‘Who is our enemy? What do we know about them? And what is the current technology available?’” she said.

As those questions come during a time period in which U.S. security and intelligence efforts are increasingly important, Earnest said he hopes audiences will at the very least recognize the complexity of U.S intelligence efforts.

“It’s sometimes bewildering to people what the role of intelligence is, where spying fits in, where cyberwar fits in, all of those things,” Earnest said. “My hope and goal is that the people attending this week will develop a grasp on intelligence, the U.S. Intelligence Community and the role of intelligence in today’s world.”

Further viewing:

  1. The Colbert Report (Part 1)
  2. The Colbert Report (Part 2)