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CIA Director Discusses Global Hotspots in SAIS Visit

February 5, 2024

In a packed theater at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg Center in Washington, D.C., Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns spoke to a select audience from the Johns Hopkins SAIS community about global hotspots and the role of the United States in maintaining a stable and prosperous international order.

In a fireside chat introduced by SAIS Dean James Steinberg, SAIS Professor John McLaughlin interviewed Director Burns on issues ranging from Russia and Ukraine to China and the Middle East, and on key intelligence challenges facing the United States. The conversation was followed by an audience question-and-answer session. Director Burns also met with a smaller group of SAIS students for an even more in-depth roundtable discussion.

The event was co-sponsored by the SAIS Merrill Center for Strategic Studies and the Dean’s Office, and was part of the school’s Dean’s Speaker Series, which brings prominent leaders and policy practitioners to SAIS every year for insightful perspectives and discussions of international issues, leadership, and other relevant topics.

In response to a question from a SAIS student about the importance and challenges of public service careers, Director Burns recalled the time, many years ago, when he was grappling with what to do with his professional life. His father, who had a distinguished military career, sent him a hand-written note that said: “Nothing can make you prouder than to serve your country with honor.” That note helped launch Burns on a career in public service. “I have never regretted that choice,” he said.

Director Burns also said the CIA had more applicants in 2023 than in any year since the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001. He added that young people entering public service today have a great opportunity to make a meaningful impact, especially in the current global situation of intense competition for influence between democratic nations and autocratic rulers seeking to undermine democratic principles.

Before becoming CIA chief in 2021, Director Burns served as U.S. ambassador to Russia and to Jordan, in a State Department career that began in 1982 and included posts as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.

Immediately before becoming CIA director, Burns served as president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Students meeting guest speaker
Students meeting guest speaker
Speaker at the podium
Audience view of the event
Director speaking at the event
Director speaking at the event