James McClendon, Editor-in-Chief
The Office of Justice Studies welcomed John Rizzo, the former chief legal counsel for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, to the Utica College campus. He gave a talk Wednesday, April 5, in the Strebel Auditorium.
Rizzo has traveled around the country and has grown very comfortable speaking in front of large crowds.
“In my career at the CIA I did very little public speaking because of the nature of my work,” Rizzo said. “When my book came out I started getting invited to lots of campuses and organizations and I found that I enjoyed doing them.”
Crowd interaction is important to his presentations. He encouraged members of the audience to engage him with questions and comments.
This was Rizzo’s first time visiting Utica College. Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice James Brown invited Rizzo to speak.
“I met Dr. Brown at one of my talks last year,” Rizzo said. “When he sent the invitation, I was pleased to come.”
Rizzo went into his presentation with a clear idea of what he wanted his audience to take away. He wanted to show the audience that real people work at the CIA
“My first priority is to try to give a sense of what a career in the CIA is like,” Rizzo said. “The popular culture version of the CIA is largely mythologized.”
He didn’t know anyone who worked for the agency and wasn’t even sure how to apply.
He sent a cover letter and his resume to the listed address but didn’t hear anything for a month. Then he received a mysterious phone call and was asked to drive to Virginia for an interview. After the interview, he didn’t hear anything for another two months, until he received another mysterious phone call offering him a job.
“It was a total shot in the dark,” Rizzo said.
One of Rizzo’s greatest challenges was keeping his work life separated from his personal life. Rizzo wasn’t a spy, however, he felt he had to lead a double-life.
“It could be difficult at times, once you leave the office that’s it,” Rizzo said. “You can’t take work home because it’s classified. You can’t talk to anyone about it, I found it to be a hard adjustment.”
After years of being in the public spotlight, Rizzo decided to retire in 2009. He wasn’t sure how he would adjust to life after the CIA but he found it to be a great relief.
“I didn’t know how I would adjust,” Rizzo said. “Once I left the CIA that was it, I wasn’t going to maintain any connects. Three plus decades was enough.”
After he retired, he began writing his book, “Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA.” It was important to Rizzo because it was a way for him to decompress after years of being secretive. Writing a book after working for the CIA is not an easy task.
“You can’t just write the book,” Rizzo said. “You have to send any proposals to the CIA for approval so that was a challenge.”
Occasionally authors will choose to share their work with editors or close friends and family, however Rizzo was not allowed to do that.
“So, I wrote it and I couldn’t show it to anyone,” Rizzo said. “I didn’t know if it was any good.”
He also had to be extremely careful about what he wrote about. He had to avoid specific names and locations.
“I knew there were things I couldn’t talk about,” Rizzo said. “It was like walking a tight rope. I tried to self-censor but at the end of the day the CIA actually let me keep more stuff in it than I thought they would.”
Hannah Garramone is thinking about joining the Cyber Security program at UC next fall.
I thought it was pretty informative,” Garramone said. “I though it was interesting to hear about to hear his point of view and his experice with the CIA.”
One of the reason he enjoys speaking to college students is to encourage them to work at the CIA because it is a unique experience.
“It’s challenging but I enjoyed every minute I was there,” Rizzo said. “There is no more rewarding place to be.”